While the staff of the Indigo book store finished their final preparations for the reading, Kevin Sylvester drew pictures for the kids. He’s a great doodler and artist, so he stood by his easel, making little drawings according to the kids’ instructions, or illustrating the way he used to dip his fries into his strawberry shakes when he was young. The kids were totally grossed out and happy!
But soon everything was ready to get down to business, the promotion of Sylvester’s new YA novel, Neil Flambe and the Marco Polo Murders. Of course, he just kept doing what he’d been doing, chatting with the kids, asking which ones liked to eat, and using the food as an introduction to this novel about a brilliant fourteen year old master chef who helps the police solve food-related crimes with his expert knowledge and a supersensitive nose.
The kids enjoyed what Sylvester called his “multi-media” presentation: the drawings, the brief readings (accompanied in chapter one by a burp that really was part of the story), and the chef’s jacket and hat that Sylvester wore. He moved quickly from one thing to another, recognizing the attention spans he was dealing with, keeping the kids interested with a second reading, followed by a little drawing lesson. He had them count down, 5-4-3-2-1, promising to show them all they needed to know before the countdown was finished.
When they reached “1,” he drew a circle. Did you know that all you need to start with is a circle, upon which you then doodle till the details come out right? Or that the Mona Lisa was essentially a 40-year doodle by Leonardo da Vinci? Or that you can draw a dragon just by beginning with a circle and a triangle?
This Neil Flambé story, apparently the first of at least three novels, has had a long and rather public gestation. It first saw the light of day in 2007, as Sylvester filled in for the summer on the national CBC Radio One morning program, Sounds Like Canada. He decided to write the story over ten weeks, working on a chapter each weekend and having it taped and read on the show during the subsequent week by anime and television voice actor Anna Cummer. Even the listeners got some input as the story went along, contributing on a Facebook page.
So there were thousands of us who followed and loved the story of this audacious and arrogant boy-chef the first time through, and who have waited ever since, toes tapping impatiently, for the radio play to be reborn as a novel. It’s probably for kids a little older than the ones Sylvester was reading for today (which is why I’m calling it a YA novel rather than a children’s book), but it’s going to have a horde of adult fans too, I can guarantee it.
When I ask, “Do I Want to Read Your Book,” I confess that I cheated this time, because I knew long before I arrived at Indigo that I wanted to. But I still like to go to readings and book events and try to judge from the atmosphere and the presentation whether I’d have wanted to read a book if I didn’t already know about it. And judging from the kids’ enjoyment, and Kevin Sylvester’s fun and entertaining presentation today, my answer would still be yes.
(For more news about public appearances and other things Sylvester is up to [including his ongoing “cat” series of doodle pictures], check out the Kevin Sylvester blog.)