Author Simon Van Booy has the keys to a time machine. Let’s see how he got them, and where he wants to go!
My new fantasy adventure novel—my first book for young readers—is called Gertie Milk & the Keeper of Lost Things. It was inspired by my daughter, who said there weren’t enough tough girl characters in books. Agreed.
She also wanted an action book that was funny, and maybe just a little bit scary too.
I had always wondered where things that go missing end up. Not just socks and wallets—but bigger stuff, like entire aircraft, or ships that disappear without a trace. And so Skuldark was born. An island of lost things, that contains everything that’s ever been lost from the world.
After imagining this rocky, mountainous eruption from the sea, it only seemed natural to have guardians for the thousands upon thousands of things stored on the island. As Skuldark is not on any maps, I also decided it could be home to the most bizarre and amazing creatures, such as Slug Lamps, enormous Guard Worms, and of course the heroes of the story, Gertie Milk, Kolt, and Robot Rabbit Boy.
These guardians (known officially as Keepers of Lost Things) have the rather tricky job of actually returning items back to the world. At first the things selected for ‘return’ might seem trivial, a stick, a watch, or a sword—but Gertie and her fellow Keepers soon learn their significance while on each high-stakes mission. To get back (or forward in time), Gertie and Kolt use a special Keeper’s key, and a time machine, which just happens to be a converted 1960s sports car (that breaks down a lot). Their enemies are the Losers, who despite the unfortunate name, are actually pretty dangerous people. The Losers, whose job is to create as much loss in the world as possible, are led by a super computer that also makes the world’s greatest hot chocolate.
After spending so much time in Keeper company on Skuldark, I began to wonder about the places, people, and moments I would most like to visit in history. Here are my Top Five!
- 1922…somewhere in North America. Thousands of feet in the air. Sitting behind stunt pilot, “Brave” Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to get an international pilot’s license. She wanted to go to flight school in the United States, but was rejected because of her gender and race. Determined not to give up, Bessie went on a long journey, thousands of miles away to France, where she joined an aviation school and returned to the United States a hero.
- The English countryside in the 1790s, where Dr. Edward Jenner is rubbing a rock from his fossil collection and staring at a big cow. Although he was ridiculed and laughed at for his medical theories, Dr. Jenner was determined and persisted. In 1796, he discovered the vaccine for smallpox, by realizing that milk-maids who caught the mild disease, cowpox (and recovered), never caught the more deadly smallpox. That’s how we get the word ‘vaccine.’ Vacca is Latin for cow. Eventually people believed Dr. Jenner, and millions of lives were saved. In fact, we might not have been born at all if it wasn’t for this dairy-mad doctor.
- A hot bakery kitchen in the middle of summer in Naples, Italy, 1889. For out of the oven is about to come the first ever pizza, invented by Raffaele Esposito, to pay tribute to the “Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy.” The green basil, white cheese, and red tomatoes were supposed to represent the Italian flag. But seriously, who wouldn’t like a slice of the first pizza EVER MADE.
- 50,000 years ago, in Northern Australia with the Aborigines, where boomerangs are being used for hunting. While I’d be happy just to chew on local vegetables and not kill any kangaroos myself—I would love to know how to throw a boomerang so that it comes back to my hand. Tens of thousands of years later, the technology of a boomerang was used to anticipate helicopter flight.
- 5th century Henan Province, China to learn the art of Shaolin Temple Kung Fu. The legend is, this martial art was taught by an Indian monk who was visiting the temple and found the monks so lazy and unfit—they fell asleep during important rituals and mediation. Kung Fu is different than many other forms of fighting, as strength in this martial art is synonymous with self-control and compassion for others. The ‘art’ has since spread all over the world. Here is David Kaplan, a Chinese-speaking New Yorker, and Kung Fu master who has many students, including some over a hundred years of age.
Well that’s just a short list—for the longer version, I’d need safety equipment and some kind of off-road, awesome looking transport. If you could time travel, where would you go? Who would you like to meet? Please share in the comments below! Maybe I’ll put it in the next Gertie Milk book.
Simon Van Booy (@simonvanbooy) is the best-selling author of seven books of fiction, and three anthologies of philosophy. He has written for the New York Times, the Financial Times, NPR, and the BBC. He enjoys building robots, model airplanes, and off-road vehicles—which he likes to crash. He has an impressive umbrella collection, a Bowler hat, and carries a green thermos of tea everywhere. His books have been translated into many languages. In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, a project which helps young people build confidence in their literary abilities through annual awards. Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things (www.gertiemilk.com) is his first novel for young readers.
Raised in rural Wales and England, Simon currently lives between Brooklyn and Miami with his wife, daughter, Robot Rabbit Boy, and a fully-grown sheep.