Letters and artwork from fifth-grade students

Posted on June 12, 2012 (Subscribe to Blog)

In the past few years I've come to know Brian Clopper, an author as well as a teacher of fifth-grade students at Jones Dairy Elementary School in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I'll call him Mr. Clopper since his students may be reading this post! Anyway, this is the third year running that Mr. Clopper has read Island of Fog to his class, and once again his students have written letters and come up with some fantastic artwork, all bundled together in a single package that I received about a month ago.

I've enjoyed going through the letters and studying the artwork. These students are talented! And they have great taste, since they seem to like my books. :-)

Letters and Artwork from Jones Dairy Elementary School

Click thumbnails for larger views of artwork!
(reset to original picture)

I spent some time trying to figure out how best to display some of the artwork on this website, but in the end I decided there are too many to scan and it wouldn't be fair to select just a few. So I'll just say a big THANK YOU for the insightful scenes from the story and the imaginative characterizations of Hal and his friends. It's pretty amazing to have a class dedicating their time to my books and writing letters to ask questions.

And those questions are the main focus of this post. I've been asked some of these questions before, but the majority are fresh and new to me. I'm always happy to answer whatever I can, so here goes...

How many shapeshifters are there in total?

There are eight as Island of Fog begins, but later nine when Thomas joins the ranks. There would have been another, but the Osbornes left the shapeshifter program early on, and their son or daughter (who would have been a troll shapeshifter) was never born. Of course, this is just one generation of shapeshifters. Miss Simone is one herself; she was one of twelve classmates, ten of whom made it through the program as you'll find out in later books. That means there are two others whose fates have been brushed over so far. I often wonder what happened to them...

Is there a shapeshifter ruler?

If there's any such thing, it's Miss Simone. She's the Shapeshifter Project Leader and pretty much runs her village at the same time. She took over the job from Old Professor Bart, as you'll read at the beginning of Lake of Spirits during a flashback scene.

Why do shapeshifters have to be the same age?

Think about it logically. It's not like a group of same-age children are chosen to be shapeshifters. Rather, a group of couples are chosen to give birth to shapeshifters. Since the babies are conceived under laboratory conditions as part of the Shapeshifter Program, it stands to reason the children would be born around the same time nine months later – thereby making them the same age when they grow up.

Why did you make Miss Simone a mermaid?

She was a mermaid from the very first moment she walked onto the pages. In fact, she was a mermaid before that. I loved the idea of her diving off the cliff and vanishing beneath the sea. I also loved the idea of her being strangely enchanting.

Why does Miss Simone come from another dimension?

Actually she comes from our world, just as Hal does. But, like Hal, she ended up in another dimension where she stayed to live.

Why does Miss Simone have midget goblins?

*Wince* Why does she have goblin friends, do you mean? The goblins are grumpy but extremely loyal and trustworthy, not to mention hardworking and trustworthy.

Why are the goblins nice?

I wouldn't say they're nice, but they are on the side of the good guys. They're just dependable types, that's all. They're rude and grumpy but don't have any evil bones in their bodies.

How could Emily talk to the sea monster?

Emily is a naga, which is a snake-human hybrid. The naga come in three different forms – the first without arms and best suited for underwater dwelling, the second with arms and best suited for life on land, and a third that we haven't met yet; this third form will show up in Book Six when our friends go into the hills. I don't think this third form of naga is very friendly.

Why was Fenton afraid to show his power to the others?

He was ashamed. Hal was too, at first, when he had a rash on his arm. Abigail was the first to really show her powers, but even she was nervous about it. Fenton, being the class bully, was particularly afraid of being thought of as a freak.

Why wasn't Emily's dog, Wrangler, affected by the virus?

Because he's a dog. Animals aren't affected, although there was some evidence of mutated strains of the virus carrying across to animals in the early days. But for the most part, only humans were affected.

How did Wrangler not drown in the sea?

Again, because he's a dog. Ever heard of the doggy paddle? ;-)

Who did you mean the sea serpent to be?

The sea serpent is simply that – a sea serpent. It's not a shapeshifter and never was, although I did at one point entertain the idea of having Miss Simone as the sea serpent, which would make some sense if you think of the way she jumped off the cliff and disappeared. But ultimately that wouldn't have worked; she couldn't spend all her time in the water circling the island. She has work to do!

What is your favorite book of the series?

That's a difficult question. After I received good feedback for Island of Fog, I wrote the second, Labyrinth of Fire, and was immediately worried that it wouldn't be received as well. But readers seemed to like it even more. So for a while it became my favorite book. When I wrote the third, I really enjoyed where it was going and was proud when I finished it. Then I worried again. Maybe it wasn't any good! But again, it was received well, although overall I think the general opinion was that Labyrinth of Fire was best because of its action, Island of Fog was second, and Mountain of Whispers third. This opinion varies, though, because some readers prefer mystery over adventure. Then I wrote Lake of Spirits, and this immediately became the favorite for most. (Some didn't like the cliffhanger ending.) I'm hoping that the fifth book, Roads of Madness, will at least be received as well as some of the others. I guess I'll find out!

Who is your favorite character?

Probably Abigail, but I do have a liking for Darcy as well. And I enjoy writing Robbie's scenes because he's such a doofus most of the time. You'll notice, though, that he can become quite the hero in later books – and then go right back to being a doofus.

What other creatures are you thinking of doing?

They're all pretty much covered for now, in that all the creatures I want to write about are already assigned to characters in the series. The only other creature I'd like to meet is a troll, but I might work one in somewhere.

If there was another character, what would his or her name be, and what would he or she turn into?

Nothing is springing to mind as I write this, and I don't remember having any hankerings for other creatures at any other time, so I guess I'm pretty happy with the current selection.

If you were a hybrid, what would you like to be?

I have to admit an ogre would be pretty useful. Animals such as dragons and centaurs would be too weird, but an ogre is at least human-shaped, and who couldn't do with that extra strength sometimes?

Why are the parents not creatures as well?

Because they're just ordinary people. It's only their children, who were, um, altered in a laboratory before birth, that are shapeshifters.

Why does the raft have a window in it?

It's a front door off a house and I just thought it would be neat to see through it while paddling. Of course, it would work better if the window was partly submerged, and if the water wasn't so murky.

What happened to the people Out There? Where did the idea and symptoms of the virus come from?

I thought a virus apocalypse would be better for my series than something like a nuclear war or natural disaster. I didn't want the world itself to be flattened or uninhabitable; I just wanted most people out of the way! The symptoms of the virus were just one idea of many. Actually, although Miss Simone loosely calls it a virus, in reality a virus can't survive for long without a host, and that's why it transpires that the virus is in fact – well, that would be giving it away. You'll find out more as the series progresses. :-)

When is Book Five coming out?

Roads of Madness will be available August 2012.

How many books are in the series?

Currently there are four, with a fifth coming out in August, and a sixth planned for early 2013. So it's planned as a six-book series at the moment, maybe more if I choose. Beyond that, I do have ideas for spin-off novels based around Miss Simone's world but which don't include Hal and his friends.

Were there any scenes you wanted to use but didn't?

Yes! There are plenty of scenes I cut from the books, especially Island of Fog, which went through many revisions and might have been an entirely different book if I had chosen. For one thing, it started out as Island of Mist with twelve children, two of whom were twins. I decided that twelve children was spreading my characterizations too thin; it was hard enough with eight. The original draft started out way too slow. There was a good scene where Hal hid in the back of his dad's pickup and snuck Out There when his dad went to meet some other shapeshifter families; you have to understand that everything was quite a bit different in that early draft, and there were numerous shapeshifter programs going on at once across the country. There was no virus, and the mist across the island was magical and simply hid the island from view by making people instantly forget it was there. There was a man in charge of the project, known as Mr. Mist. And the children escaped the island, too. Remember the crates in the lighthouse where Emily found the smart clothes? In the original draft of the book, there was a tunnel under those crates – leading under the sea to the mainland. But ultimately, all those ideas took the book in the wrong direction. In the end I needed a world Out There that was no more, with life in Miss Simone's world being the only viable option.

How tall is the lighthouse?

High enough to poke out of the top of the fog!

What kind of creature is Fenton?

He's a bit of a mystery, and although Hal at first thinks of him as a gargoyle because of the way he clings to walls and spits water, later Fenton turns out to be a massive monster so rare that it has no name in Miss Simone's world. There's really just four of them, including Fenton. At the end of Mountain of Whispers, Hal and his friends run through a number of humorous names to call his kind, but Miss Simone opts for ouroboros, which is the name of a mythical creature thought to be so long it can circle the world. But frankly, none of Hal's friends like the name, so Fenton is still "that unnamed creature."

Who is stronger, Hal or Robbie?

Ooh, good question! Maybe I should make them get angry at each other and pitch them into battle!

Why didn't Fenton change back after he went through the portal?

Because he was new to shapeshifting and he couldn't seem to control it properly.

Why was Miss Simone affected by the virus?

Miss Simone is older than Hal and his friends. Young shapeshifters have very strong immune systems, but as they get older, their immune system weakens. So Miss Simone had some immunity from the virus, but not as much as the children. And remember when she shifted to her mermaid form? She instantly felt a little better, because transforming encourages healing.

How much time per day do you write?

When I decide to write, I set aside at least a couple of hours. It takes me fifteen minutes just to get back into the groove, so I don't subscribe to the notion that writers "should write every day even if it's only for five minutes." I need at least a couple of hours if I can get it. On Monday I spent pretty much all day at it. On Tuesday I did nothing. On Wednesday I wrote all day again. So it's case of grabbing the time when I can, but I tend to plan ahead so I know when it's worth getting started.

Why did you start writing?

Because it was the only way to get the words onto paper? But seriously, I like writing and always have. There's no valid reason other than that. It's certainly not for the money!

How did you come up with the idea for the series?

I don't remember. Like many ideas, the germ of a plot just popped into my head and marinated in brain juice for a few months.

Do you ever talk to some of your fans?

Yes, often! Whenever someone contacts me to say they liked the books, I talk to them (usually by email). Sometimes I meet readers in my local town. I met one recently who couldn't say enough good things about my books, and it was fab. That person made my day. And sometimes I get lots of great letters and sketches from super-smart fifth-grade students in Mr. Clopper's class, and you won't believe how great that feels. Whenever I think "not enough people are reading my books, I might as well give up," I always think of those who HAVE read the books and had nice things to say. Then I'm inspired to write more.

Thank you once again, Mr. Clopper, for giving my books some air-time in your class. :-)

Check out Brian Clopper's website and learn about his own excellent fantasy novels.

Comment by WIFEY on Wednesday, June 13, 2012...

Lovely post, my dear! And I loved all the great questions you were asked! Some that I have never thought about before.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Wednesday, June 13, 2012...

I know, right? There were some I'd never thought about before.

Comment by RALPH CORDEROY on Thursday, June 14, 2012...

Yes, excellent questions from Jones Dairy. Can we take it the goblins are full-sized then? :-) I've seen some authors do Hangouts occasionally on Google+, it may be a way to interact with fans like the above when they're too far away for a real-life meeting.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Thursday, June 14, 2012...

Heh. Goblins are short and stout, about Hal's height, but I wouldn't say they're midgets. And yes, I've heard of Hangouts too. Not sure it's something I'd like to do, but that's just me, and it's always an option as you say.

Comment by ROGER ESCHBACHER on Thursday, June 14, 2012...

Very nice! It looks like you have some dedicated fans as readers. How generous of Mr. Clopper to share his student's thoughts and artwork with you.

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Saturday, June 16, 2012...

Thanks so much for taking the time with the questions. My students will be by next Wednesday during their computer lab time to post comments to this entry.

Roger, you'll be happy to know my read aloud selections for next year are: Graham, Island of Fog, Dragonfriend, and my new book, Ned Firebreak, proofread to the class saved for the end of the year. Each book will be read aloud to them for each of the four quarters.

Expect a truckload of art and questions to come your way. I love supporting two such talented writers.

Comment by ROGER ESCHBACHER on Saturday, June 16, 2012...

Brian (aka Mr. Clopper): Wow. That's quite an honor! Kids always ask the best questions so I am very much looking forward to hearing from them. Thank you!

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Tuesday, June 19, 2012...

Okay, in less than twelve hours my class will be in computer lab and be deluging you with fun comments. They are excited about doing this.

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Thank you for taking the time to snap all those photos of the artwork. I know my class will love seeing their work on your website.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

You're very welcome! And now, let class begin...

Comment by CAROLINE on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

thank u mr. robinson for posting my drawings and questions. i have seen 5 drawings!! its cool. thanks again! :)

Comment by LEXIE on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

thank you for posting all the pictures and comments. I really liked the book

Comment by SOPHIA on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

I loved your book! it was very intresting and I really liked the end

Comment by LINDSEY on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

These were all good questions and answers. Thank you for putting on all of these pictures!

Comment by HANNAH on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Hi I 'm in Mr.Cloppers class. Hi Keith or Mr.Robinson .

Comment by DERRA on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

thanks for putting my strange pictures on your website. You are a very creative writer. Thanks again.

Comment by BEN BAKER on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

I love your Island of Fog books. They are great to read and very action packed. I cant wait until book five comes out.

Comment by JENSEN ABHAU on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Thank you for the reply on my question and I'm glad to hear that Book 5 will come out in August. I am buying the whole series this summer and going to share the fun of each of your books with my friends. Thanks again and I hope to see more answers to new questions!!!

Comment by RYAN WI on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Thanks for showing my pictures on the site. I can't wait to read Roads of Madness!!!

Comment by RYAN WI on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Thanks for showing my pictures on the site. I can't wait to read Roads of Madness!!!

Comment by DAVID on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

the island of fog series. i have read all of the books in the series. they are great!!!

Comment by KESSA DANDREA on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

thanks so much for letting Mr. Clopper read you book to us. It was the best book i have ever read and thank you for putting my picture on the site. Hope we can read more of your books. !bye!

Comment by CARLY B on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

dear keith,
I love all the cool book covers that you have. They are really creative!! I wish I was as creative as you. I also wish I could read all your books. If I had to give them a grade I would definately give them all a 10 out of 10. Thats how amazing your books are ecspecially the characters. keep writing your books theyare amazing!!!

Comment by EMILY on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Mr.Robinson, Thanks so much for posting the pictures and questions! I saw quite a few of my pictures and you answered both of my questions. I am really glad Mr.Clopper read your books to me and I am dying to read the rest of the series. I love your style of writing and I would read your books all day if I could. Thanks again!

Comment by DANIEL JACKSON on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

i love your books they really intresting!

Comment by RHAYNE on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Dear Keith, I thought that all of your characters were amazing! I loved the first Island of Fog. I was happy to see that you had posted most of my pictures! I wish that I could turn into a magical creature like all of all your characters!

Comment by RHAYNE on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Dear Keith, I thought that all of your characters were amazing! I loved the first Island of Fog. I was happy to see that you had posted most of my pictures! I wish that I could turn into a magical creature like all of all your characters!

Comment by DANTE on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

i saw 5 of my pictures and i love all of your books. in the 5th book can somebody get burned by hal? thank you

Comment by ADAM on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

I loved Island of Fog. I can't wait to read the other books! I was reading the Q and A, and one of your answers was that you liked Abby the best. I thought it was Hal! Once again, Island of Fog was AMAZING!

Comment by KYLE on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Thank you for answering my questions so soon. Mr. Clopper had said you had been very busy. I loved the book. I can't wait to read book #2!

Comment by CARLY HEBERT on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Hi my name is Carly and I really enjoyed your book Island of Fog it was so cool. I was really impressed by how you made the shape shifters what they are. I think the creatures fit there attitude. Your books are super cool and entertaining. When Mr.Clopper finished the book I was sad because it was such a good one. You are just such a good author. There is one question I want to ask you. How do you get these awesome ideas?!! I am so glad I got to read your books!!!

Comment by TJ BOYLAN on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

i like the way you went in labyrinth of fire when they found a portal & ended up in a small town how did you think of that?

Comment by NOEMI PEREZ on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

thanks for letting us read your book in our class and posting my picture on your wall. I wish that we can read some other book's that you have writen. bye???

Comment by JADA on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Thank you for posting are drawings.

Comment by CODY BRITTON on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

I have always wanted to read your books.

Comment by DANIEL BASS on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

I have read books 1-4 and can't wait for book 5 Roads of Madness!

Comment by LOUKA on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

i love your book

Comment by JACOB ROGERS on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

hey mr. keith i love your books you do a good job

Comment by JALEN on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

i love tour books

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Okay, class, teachable moment here. Interesting is spelled i-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-i-n-g. Let's get that locked in our heads. Thanks for sending Mr. Robinson such great comments.

Comment by DIANTE on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

I like your book. Thankyou for posting my drawings

Comment by TJ BOYLAN on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

as we read island of fog it realy built in action I think book 2 has a classic mix of parting sides.

Comment by LINDSEY on Wednesday, June 20, 2012...

Thank you for posting everything! I have seen all of my drawings!

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