Today on the blog, we’re launching our own investigation into one of our most puzzling new books… have you discovered Hoakes Island yet? LKP Children's Editor Chloë introduces us to this very unusual mystery and the father-daughter team behind it.
Hoakes Island is a puzzle adventure book like no other! A group of talking animals living in an amusement park need your help – the owner of the park has gone missing and they need to find the deeds to the park to stop it being knocked down. The book is an old notebook stuffed full of letters, notes, photos and more, with a red lens magnifying glass for you to spot extra details. The pages are in a mixed-up order and you need a special map of the island to help you navigate your way through the book, solving puzzles and picking up clues along the way.
Hoakes Island co-creator, Helen came up with the original idea and pitched it to Elizabeth, our children’s editorial director. It reminded us of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, which we had loved as children, and the idea of doing something similar, but entirely original for today’s readers, was too good to pass up.
Working with what turned out to be a father-daughter team in Helen and Ian Friel, was absolutely brilliant; it is clear that they have a great relationship with each other. They’re both full of ideas and enthusiasm, even through lots of meetings where we were pulling things apart and changing bits of the storyline around.
Ian is a writer but Hoakes Island is his first children’s book, and quite a departure from his usual area, but he had such a good sense of the characters and a real natural flair for it all. Together they were the perfect team, and I think they really enjoyed working with each other too.
Because of the structure of the book – you have to solve each puzzle in order to work out which page to turn to next, and progress with the adventure - making sure everything worked was a real challenge. There were so many ways it could go wrong, or not make sense. There’s the main mystery of where the deeds to the island are, plus extra questions that need to be answered – where is Henry Hoakes? And what exactly is the Grand Reveal he was planning before he disappeared? Plus there are mini puzzles that need to be solved to help you navigate your way around the island, and clues to be gathered up along the way.
Because the pages are in a mixed-up order it was also a very tricky book to edit. It can’t be read from start to finish, so each time I wanted to go through the book I had to use the map to work my way through the story.
Helen was keen from the start to use a limited colour palette for the whole book and story, and to incorporate a special red lens (which works with red and blue on the page to reveal new details), and the palette works so well with her illustration style and the old-fashioned look she wanted to give it.
The pages of the book where it looks as though photos, letters and ephemera are stuck in are actually proper photographs – each spread was laid out with real paper and bits and pieces in Helen’s studio and photographed, then the text and illustrations were laid over the top. We wanted it to have a beautiful, textured vintage look mixed with modern, colourful illustrations.
On top of all that, we printed in Pantones to make the colours really pop and so the whole book looks really striking and extra-special. Oh, and it’s printed on thick uncoated paper, with quarterbinding and debossing on the cover. We certainly didn’t do things by halves!
The whole team at Laurence King road tested the book about a zillion times and gave it to anyone who was willing to have a look – it’s the kind of book that just can’t be checked too many times. We also brought in a crack team of puzzle fans from the target age group to make sure it was pitched at the right level; it needs to be fiendish and challenging but without being so difficult that you feel like giving up – and it also needs to be fun, of course!
It’s printing in several foreign languages too, so ensuring that all the text and puzzles would be translatable and the book would still work in multiple languages and alphabets was another challenge on top of everything else. But we got there in the end and I’m so thrilled with the end result – we can’t wait for everyone to meet Rita and the animals and start the adventure!
Find out more about Hoakes Island here