Children’s book author tells mystery stories in Cooper Creek
On a sunny Sunday morning, June 12, children flocked to Cooper Creek Square to hear children’s book author Tom Phillips tell the story of John Boarhog, an 11-year-old wannabe Sherlock Holmes and the protagonist of “Egypt’s Fire: The Curious League”. detectives and thieves.
Young readers were immersed in a world of mystery as Phillips read an excerpt from his book (where John encounters a mysterious magician in a prison cell). The children had the chance to ask Phillips questions about Egypt’s Fire and then have their books signed. The event was organized by Mountain Shire Books & Gifts.
Egypt’s Fire is the first book in a mid-level series that follows the eccentric adventures of John as he solves crime alongside Detective Toadius McGee. John, an orphan living at the Museum of Natural History in New York, is accused of stealing a “cursed” ruby from the museum’s Egyptian exhibit. John teams up with Detective Toadius, who believes the ruby was stolen by a criminal mastermind, to clear his name and find the real thief. Egypt’s Fire, aimed at children aged 8 to 13, follows “A Series of Unfortunate Events”.
During the event’s Q&A session, a reader asked Phillips how he got the idea for the book. Phillips is originally from Grand County, but has lived in New York. The setting of Egypt’s Fire is the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which Phillips visited frequently. One day, he heard a child visiting the museum exclaim, “I want to live in a museum, on the ceiling!” Phillips decided, “Here’s my book.”
Another reader asked Phillips, “What’s the most enjoyable part of writing a book?”
“The most enjoyable part of this whole trip was coming here,” Phillips replied. “I know most of you, some of you (were my) teachers. I know you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this kid can read!’
He pointed to his former Grand Lake Elementary fourth grade teacher, Jan Wharton, in the crowd. “Without her, I’d probably still be in fourth grade,” he joked.
In an interview with Sky-Hi News, Phillips said he had a lot of fun writing the book. “It’s such a cool age group to write for. They’re so smart so you don’t have to do anything, but they’re also super dumb,” Phillips said. “They’re ready for anything, so it’s really fun to write a wacky adventure…that pushes their reading level.”
Phillips added that he wrote the book with reluctant readers in mind, so they could immerse themselves in the story. He explained that for children, the crazier and more creative a story, the better. Egypt’s Fire is quirky and inventive, keeping kids on their toes as their fingers turn the pages, eager to read what happens next.
“Once you finish the first chapter, the book doesn’t stop until the end. The kids love it, it makes them want to finish it. …There’s an umbrella fight over the Chrysler building, there’s a car chase involving a dog, a motorcycle, a horse-drawn carriage and a banana truck! said Phillips, describing the book’s craziest scenes.
Egypt’s Fire is the first in a series of 12 books. Phillips has already plotted the future adventures of his characters. Each book is a different piece on the mystery genre.
“The first book is museum jewelry thief bullshit. The second is murder on a boat, the third is like India Jones, the fourth is a prison break. These are classic mystery plots to introduce kids to the genre,” Phillips said.
The book was published by Penguin Random House, which is one of the “big five” – the top five publishers in the country.
“Being a dyslexic boy who just graduated from high school, now having a book published worldwide by one of the big five publishers is insane!” Phillips said. “I’m always like, am I dreaming? It was amazing.
Although his main character, John, is not dyslexic, Phillips wanted John to experience the same struggles as he and the other students, trapped in a learning environment that might not nurture them. Because John lives in the museum, he can’t go to school.
“He didn’t feel smart and felt left out, but he’s really smart,” Phillips said.
Phillips hopes her book will encourage children to adopt their own style of reading.
“Our ultimate goal is to get books into the hands of children…it’s about helping children become self-selecting readers. If you don’t like my book, you will like a book,” he said.
Phillips is also inspired to write by his love for libraries. “When I was young, I relied on libraries. … It was really nice to have librarians who cared so much,” he said. At the event, people could buy a book and then put it in a donation box to go to local libraries.
Phillips said another person who inspired his writing is his father, who once worked as a security guard for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, another reason Phillips chose a museum for the setting of his book. . His book dedication reads: “To Big Tom, the greatest father that ever lived.”
Phillips explained that Detective Toadius becomes a father figure to orphan John.
“It’s a story of found family, of fathers and sons,” Phillips said. “I had a very strong father figure. My dad was literally the coolest man alive. He was like a hero in Grand County. There are so many people who loved him.
Phillips currently lives in Los Angeles, where he is an artist and video editor for companies such as HBO and Disney. Although Phillips has lived in the nation’s largest metropolises, his true roots are here in Grand County.
“You can take the boy off the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains off the boy,” Phillips said. He was born and raised in Grand Lake, where his parents owned a marina. When they sold the marina, they built the movie theater that used to be in Granby.
“It’s interesting living in a giant metropolis and coming from a city of about 500 people,” Phillips said, recalling that there were more people in his New York apartment complex than throughout the city of Grand Lake.
Phillips said living in Grand taught him “how you treat people, how you look people in the eye, and how far a handshake will go. The integrity you learn in a small town builds success in other places. … I don’t think I would be successful in my life without the community and the lessons I learned in Grand County.
Phillips also reflected on Grand’s resilient response to the devastating 2020 fire in the East.
“There are phenomenal people living in this county. They have a way of coming together when they really need to. The outpouring of support for each other… I wish the rest of the world could have that kind of value,” Phillips said.
Although you can buy Egypt’s Fire anywhere, including Amazon.com, Phillips encourages residents to shop locally and purchase their book in Mountain Shire.
“We came to Mountain Shire because we want people to spend their money in Grand County. That’s why we’re also doing the library donation box,” he said. “When I was growing up, we didn’t have a bookstore here, so it’s cool that we have one now. Yes, you can buy a book online, but there’s something about walking into a store with shelves of books that really opens up a child’s imagination. I’m so happy that (the owner) Miriam opened this store. It’s beautiful, it has everything, all my favorite books are there.
For people who missed the event, they can still purchase Egypt’s Fire to support their community bookstore. Please visit the Mountain Shire site at Cooper Creek or go online to BookShop.org/shop/mountainshirebooks to purchase a copy of Phillip’s book and delve into the mystery of the Museum.