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Growing Reader


Museums, Magic, and Mustering Bravery: A Q&A with Karen Foxlee

by the Brightly Editors

Illustration: Yoko Tanaka; Photo credit: Sonya Coe

Karen Foxlee is the author of Brightly’s first Book Club for Kids pick, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. We chatted with Karen about her unlikely heroine, where she’d go if she could travel to any time or place, and what she hopes readers will take away from her modern-day fairy tale and its adventurous duo.

Click here to learn more about Brightly’s Book Club for Kids, discover Ophelia-inspired activities and tips for discussion, and join in on the reading fun.

What inspired you to write Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy?

Oh, inspiration is such a strange and mysterious thing. I think Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy was born out of so many places in my head. Memories of fairy tales, a love of museums and exploring in them, an interest in science, and a recollection of the feeling stories about magic gave me as a child. There was grief too, an interest in writing about navigating the lonely landscape of grief. All those things combined and more were the inspiration for this story.

In some ways Ophelia is an unlikely heroine. What did you find most compelling about her as you were writing the character?

I loved Ophelia from the minute I met her. She arrived so fully formed, which is rare for me. When she entered the story (quite late in drafts, readers might be interested to know), I just knew everything was going to be okay. I love her occasional crankiness and her beautiful kindness. I love her resourcefulness and her resilience. She doesn’t give up. She keeps trying. Even as the world is about to end she knows she just needs a plan!

Throughout the book, Ophelia enjoys a very specific snack … why sardines?

I know! Sardines! It comes from my mother who ate them on toast sometimes for breakfast. My daughter was horrified by it. Grandma would daintily cover them over with a tissue so my daughter didn’t have to be offended by the sight of them. It used to make us laugh. Sardines just had to be in my story.

The museum in the book contains many exhibits, mysteries, and wonders. Which floor of the museum would you want to explore?

Personally I’d give anything to get onto the sixth floor, which contained all the stuff that wasn’t on display. Carriages, crowns, chairs, sewing machines, merry-go-round horses, anchors, artwork, jewellery boxes all jumbled up in piles … that would be heaven for me. I would rummage around and explore for hours.

Ophelia appears to travel through time and space within the museum. If you could travel to any time or place, where would you go?

I would love to go to Victorian London, around the late 1860s, which is where my next novel, A Most Magical Girl, is set. I’d love to walk the streets. I’d love to hear, see, and smell that world I’ve been writing about — the bells ringing and the street criers calling and the overpowering stench of that incredible city.

What’s one lesson you hope that readers will learn from Ophelia or take away from the book?

At its heart Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is an old-fashioned adventure story, so I hope readers have a fabulous adventure. But there are lots of beautiful messages as well about the power of kindness and love and friendship. About it being okay to feel sad. About resilience. I think that was the most powerful message from Ophelia. Even though she felt like giving up, she didn’t. Even though she was very sad when she arrived at that museum, she kept going. Even though she had very bad asthma and shouldn’t have bad frights, she still faced every single scary challenge. She had a friend to help and a world to save. And after all, it was the last thing written on the wizards’ note in scratchy wizard handwriting: Never, ever give up.

What other fantasy or adventure stories would you recommend to young readers who loved Ophelia?

I would recommend J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan or L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz series (they first inspired my love of adventure stories). The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (I read that book SO many times), Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass are brilliant too. But also when I’ve met kids recently at events they’ve raved about Stuart Daly’s Brotherhood of Thieves series and Allison Tait’s Mapmaker Chronicles series, so maybe they could look out for those as well!

Karen Foxlee trained and worked as a nurse for most of her adult life and also graduated from university with a degree in creative writing. She is the author of The Midnight Dress and The Anatomy of Wings, which Markus Zusak called “so special that you want to carry it around for months after you’ve finished, just to stay near it.” Karen Foxlee lives in Gympie, Australia, with her daughter.