When I was in fifth grade, I loved it when my teacher Mr. Burghy would read aloud to us. I especially loved it when my classmates convinced him to read for longer than usual or on days when he lost track of time. He could transport you to a different place with reading and had different voices for all the characters. One of the stories he read to us was The Ghost in the Noonday Sun by Sid Fleischman. That story immersed me in unexpected events, the dangers of the high seas and colorful characters I was relieved never to meet in real life!
In The Vanishing Island, twelve-year-old Bren Owen feels trapped by a future he does not want. He has no desire to become the mapmaker’s apprentice his father wants him to be. So what if he can memorize the location of items with a glance or recreate complicated drawings without a second examination? It’s the Age of Discovery, and Bren is determined to be a part of it. Bren craves adventure so much that he has attempted to stow away on three different ships. He faces a list of stiff punishments while standing before the judge when the powerful Rand McNally steps in to claim the boy.
Now Bren must work off his debt to McNally while working a job that would make anyone’s stomach squirm. He’s assigned to McNally’s vomitorium where he has the dirtiest of jobs. One of the vomitorium’s guests gives Bren a coin-like medallion right before dying. When a local doctor is then murdered after beginning an autopsy, it becomes clear that Bren isn’t the only one interested in the medallion. Bren chooses to join a Dutch admiral with an interest in the medallion, a choice that will take him to the sea like he has always dreamed. A choice that will teach him to be careful what he dreams of as life on the sea is quite different than the pages of the novels he once devoured.
With the first installment of The Chronicles of the Black Tulip, Barry Wolverton transports his readers on a perilous journey where the dangerous and grotesque are never more than a blink away. I expect Bren Owen’s story to sweep my fifth and sixth grade students away on a gripping adventure just like Oliver Finch’s story did when I was their age.
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Author Barry Wolverton explains some of the folklore underpinning The Chronicles of the Black Tulip in the following piece:
When East Meets West: Folklore of The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton
I’m not sure why I have a fascination with the Dutch. Perhaps because I love bicycles and cheese. Or because the Netherlands is the greatest name for a country ever. More likely it’s because the editor who gave me my first professional writing assignment, at the dearly departed Time-Life Books, was married to a Dutch woman who had grown up in Indonesia when it was still a Dutch colony. (She and her family also spent years in captivity when the Japanese invaded the islands during World War II, but that’s her story to tell.)
Regardless, in my alternate Seafaring Age, I made the Netherlands king of the European explorer nations, with Britannia a relative upstart by comparison. Which gave me an opportunity to read up on some truly weird folklore of the Low Countries, like the legend of Styf, the elf who liked to mix up everyone’s wooden shoes while they were at a party and leave them in a pile, but then redeemed himself by inventing starch — that stuff that makes your collars nice and rigid. I mean, what sort of people have a folktale about the the invention of clothing starch? A great people, that’s who!
Of course, in the story Bren travels to the Far East, and both the fantastic tales told of the East by Marco Polo and the mythology native to the East come into play. The titles from some of the great works from China alone take the prize for evocativeness: The Spring and Autumn Annals; Dream of the Red Chamber; The Plum in the Golden Vase; Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. To say nothing of dragons, monkey kings, empresses of the sky, and much, much more.
But what’s really interesting is the commonalities in mythology and folklore even among cultures that seem radically different. We all have our creation stories and great floods and saviors and doomsdays in some form or another. Throughout history people have taken others’ folklore and altered or embellished it, which is exactly what I did in THE VANISHING ISLAND. In some cases I was inspired to invent new stories altogether, but I’ll leave it up to readers to parse out what’s real, sort-of-real, and unreal.
Learn more about The Vanishing Island by visiting the other stops on the blog tour. Check out Walden Pond Press’s blog tour page.
Barry Wolverton is the author of Neversink. He has more than fifteen years’ experience creating books, documentary television scripts, and website content for international networks and publishers, including National Geographic, Scholastic.com, the Library of Congress, and the Discovery Networks. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee. You can visit him online at www.barrywolverton.com.
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Disclaimer: A pre-publication copy of The Vanishing Island was provided to me by Walden Pond Press.