The Curious League of Influencers and Thieves, a guest post by Tom Phillips
When I set out to write the second installment of The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves, S.O.S., I found myself adrift in a sea of possibilities, searching for that perfect theme to give life to my story. The elements were there—a mesmerizing setting aboard a cruise ship in the sky, an eccentric ensemble of characters, and an enigmatic mystery begging to be solved. Like the intrepid duo, John Boarhog and Toadius McGee, I too faced my next great challenge—a literary conundrum, if you will. My case wasn’t as straightforward as apprehending an international jewel thief or unmasking a cunning monkey criminal mastermind; instead, it centered around the character of John.
In the first book, John was portrayed as an orphan on a quest to find his place in the world, and just like the hallmark of many captivating middle-grade tales, he eventually found where he belonged. He discovered a new family, solved his case, and embraced his rightful place in the world. But what do you do with a character who has achieved their goals and seemingly reached the end of their journey? As a writer, the challenge loomed over me —how does one approach the second installment without merely replicating the success of the first?
In the publishing world, this dilemma is commonly referred to as the dreaded “sophomore slump,” a daunting prospect that weighed heavily on my shoulders. Balancing school visits, book events, and the never-ending demands of real life, the days flew by like a whirlwind, and before I knew it, my deadline appeared on the horizon, like a crusie ship full of angry Sky Pirates. Despite the hectic schedule, the core of the book eluded me, and I found myself grappling with an elusive theme.
Then, an unexpected turn of events altered the course of my book all together. During one of my school visits, a young boy raised his hand with an intriguing question—one that went beyond the usual queries about writing the book or its inspiration. He asked, “How famous are you?”
I didn’t know how to answer so I admitted, “I’m not famous at all.” The student’s reaction, however, surprised me—a collective gasp of astonishment that left me momentarily puzzled. The boy persisted, “How many TikTok followers do you have?” When I revealed that I wasn’t on TikTok, their astonishment intensified.
Their surprise unveiled a profound truth—that their notion of success had become so deeply entwined with algorithms and social media metrics that genuine success and happiness seemed overshadowed by an illusionary mirage of popularity. Their perception of happiness was directly linked to the number of followers or likes on a screen, and it was in that moment I realized my theme had materialized before me.
There is this old saying that goes “four quarters is more valuable than ninety-nine pennies,” I knew I had discovered the guiding principle for my story. It was essential to address how the younger generation perceived influencers and TikTok stars, often viewing their seemingly glamorous lives as truths. Just like the magic tricks of my youth, which turned out to be cleverly placed cards or tricks of light rather than supernatural powers, TikTok and social media were simply this generation’s version of illusionists like David Copperfield.
This was the perfect concept for the theme of S.O.S. John Boarhog was once an orphan searching for belonging, dealing with loss, and the fear of being alone. Now, he is famous. The allure of social media would seem foreign to John, as he didn’t possess a phone, and even if he did, who would watch his videos? The realization that he was alone in his journey highlighted a fundamental lesson he had yet to learn—the lesson of illusion.
As the story unfolded, John’s journey of self-discovery became intertwined with Toadius’s parental struggles. Parenting was a balancing act, navigating between setting rules and allowing children to make their own choices. Like any concerned guardian, Toadius wanted John to forge friendships with peers his own age, but for John, discerning true friendship from kids who just wanted to use his fame to get more likes, proved a daunting task. A paradox emerged, mirroring the challenges faced by modern parents who yearned to protect their children while granting them the freedom to explore and grow. And how does John deal with the sudden change in Toadius cavalier approach to life.
As parents, we often find ourselves donning the roles of gatekeepers, striving to shield our kids from harm while simultaneously preparing them for the world’s inevitable challenges. Limiting screen time may prove futile in today’s tech-driven landscape, but guiding them towards self-reliance and introducing them to valuable life lessons can make a difference. We may not be able to halt the rapid technological advancements our children face, but we can equip them with the tools they need to navigate this brave new world.
In the heart of S.O.S., John embarks on an enlightening journey, discovering the true value of genuine friendships and grappling with the challenges that accompany fame. Through his experiences, readers come to understand that authentic connections and the support of a steadfast team are indispensable elements of the journey towards success. Just like star players relying on their teammates, John realizes that he doesn’t have to face the illusions of life alone—there are friends who will stand by him through thick and thin.
Reflecting on my own experiences as a child, I feel that every young soul should learn a magic trick at some point. These tricks open a world of illusions, teaching valuable lessons about perception and the importance of seeking genuine answers. As technology advances, equipping middle-grade readers with the ability to decipher the myths of social media becomes increasingly vital. My aim was to entertain and enlighten through humor, embedding the narrative with insightful themes while taking readers on a madcap adventure aboard a luxurious cruise line in the sky.
So, I invite you to embark on this wondrous journey with John and Toadius, where new faces and old foes await. Indulge in the razzle-dazzle of giant banana-shaped ice cream parlors, witness a breathtaking magic show courtesy of The Great Goatinee, but beware of Sky Pirates and evil stowed-away monkeys. Amidst the thrill and excitement, never forget to heed the captain’s orders, for in The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 2: S.O.S, adventure and enlightenment intertwine to create a mesmerizing tale of genuine connections, the allure of fame’s illusions, and the transformative journey of growing up and finding oneself.
Meet the author
Despite a lifelong struggle with dyslexia, Tom Phillips grew up with a passion for storytelling. He writes books that kids can enjoy on their own, but also read aloud and share, including the first book in the Curious League series, Egypt’s Fire. He’s had a long career as a writer and artist for clients such as LeVar Burton Kids, HBO, Disney, and ABC. An armchair Sherlockian, Tom lives in Los Angeles with his lovely wife and his dog, Dr. Watson.
Visit Tom online at TomPhillipsWriter.com.
Twitter and Instagram: @tphillipswriter
Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook – @PixelandInkBks
About The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 2: S.O.S.
Take to the skies in the side-splitting second installment of a middle grade mystery series for fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events and Enola Holmes.
Fresh off recovering a billion-dollar ruby and losing the criminal who stole it, John Boarhog and Inspector Toadius McGee are soaring high on a new adventure!
Hoping to intercept the Mauve Moth before they execute their next great heist, Toadius and John book passage on Her Majesty’s Royal Air Armada—a luxury cruise liner airship. But alas, there will be no clear skies ahead. A committee from the Society of Sleuths (S.O.S) is also aboard, ready to put John through his first trial to gain full membership, despite Toadius’s objections.
Furious with his mentor, John falls in with the Hive, a group of kids obsessed with using social media for fame. They see how valuable he is, even if Toadius doesn’t.
But when both the Mauve Moth and Shim-Sham resurface, each with their own nefarious aims, will the detective duo be able to see past their disagreements to, once again, save the day?
The second book in the Curious League of Detectives and Thieves series, S.O.S. is a hilarious, high-flying, heart-pounding mystery adventure readers won’t be able to put down.
Publisher: Pixel + Ink Books
Publication date: 08/01/2023
Series: The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves #2
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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