Get to Know Lissa Evans
Photo courtesy of publisher
At the start of summer vacation, Stuart Horten (also unfortunately known as “Shorten”), encounters an “unexpected, strange, dangerous story” in his new town and sets off to solve the magical mystery in this first book for kids by author Lissa Evans.
Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure
Sterling, 2012 (Ages 8-13)
Read an Excerpt
Author Lissa Evans talks about her new book, Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & A Very Strange Adventure.
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Q & A with Lissa Evans
Where did you get your idea for this book?
The idea for this book came from two different directions:
- the memory of what it was like to move house right at the start of the summer vacation, when I was 10. I’d lived in a small village and we moved to a large and dreary town where we knew no-one – I was bored and lonely and I desperately wanted something extraordinary and wonderful to happen. It didn’t.
- the (recent) sight of a small boy waiting outside a coin-operated photo-booth at my local subway station. I suddenly wondered what would happen if he didn’t get the photos he expected – what if the coins he used had been left to him by his grandpa, and his grandpa appeared in the pictures? That’s how I started thinking about magic coins and lost legacies. (incidentally, the photo doesn’t actually appear in this book. Perhaps I’ll end up using it in another one. . . .)
What was your favorite book when you were growing up?
Hard to pick just one, but maybe The Diamond in the Window was the one that has stayed with me the longest, and which probably influenced Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms the most. It’s by an American author, Jane Langton, and is about a brother and sister on a magical treasure hunt within their large, eccentric house in Concord, Massachusetts.
How old were you when you started writing?
When I was six, I wrote a story about a hippo called Fred and I drew a picture of Fred at the top of the page. I also drew an arrow pointing towards his head and labelled it ‘Fred’s Head’ which I thought was brilliantly funny. So that was my first joke as well.
What is your favorite word?
Badger (the name of my dog).
What is your favorite book about Chicago?
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I read it when I was about twelve - well, I read most of it; I found the last third a bit hard going and I think I gave up. But the first half is a rivetting and often terrifying account of immigrants working in the meat-packing factories of Chicago – if you can read it and eat a hamburger immediately afterwards, you’ve got a stronger stomach than I have. It actually led to a change in the US laws on food hygiene, although Sinclair had written it with the intention of exposing awful working conditions. He said afterwards: "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
More to Explore
Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover (or Title)
When Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms was first published in England it had a different title, Small Change for Stuart. Which name do you like better? Why do you think it describes the book well? Can you find any other examples of the same book having two different titles? (Hint: Have you ever heard of a Philosopher’s Stone?)
There is also a different cover in England for the paperback edition. Which of these do you think will make kids want to read this book the most? Try your hand at designing your own cover for this, or one of your other favorite books.
Questions to Ponder
- Have you ever moved to a different home? Was it in a different city, state, or even country? Who was your first friend you made there?
- If you were going to leave a book of clues for someone with photos of important landmarks in your neighborhood, what would you include?
- What’s a telephone booth?
- Book Club Discussion Guide
Exercise Your Mind
- Create your own crossword puzzles.
- Wow your friends with the tricks in these magic books.
- Play your own word games with this puzzling book.
- Lissa Evans included lots of amazing words in her book. And if you’re unsure of what a “prestidigitator” is, or if you’ve never been part of a “perambulation,” you can find out what these words mean and where they came from by exploring the Oxford English Dictionary, just like Stuart’s father does.
- Crossword puzzle by Alan Horten, Stuart's Dad
- Stuart and April visit the Breeton Summer Festival; there are lots of great free festivals in Chicago this summer, too!
Loved Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms? Try These Books Next
The Brixton Brothers series
By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
Simon and Schuster
By Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist
The Houdini Box
By Brian Selznick
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
By Brian Selznick
The Mysterious Benedict Society series
By Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis
The Name of This Book is Secret series
By Pseudonymous Bosch, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
A Series of Unfortunate Events
By Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist
The Shrinking of Treehorn
By Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Edward Corey
Holiday House, 1971
Also by Lissa Evans
Horten's Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery & Another Very Strange Adventure
Horten's next adventure will be available in the United States this fall! Put your name on the list to check out a copy when it arrives.