Features Archive | 9/3/2010
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How to Catch a Monster Hunter!
by Susan Morris

When I was about eight years old, I went to visit my grandparents in Massachusetts for the first time. Growing up on the West Coast, I rarely saw my grandparents and had never been to their house before. They lived in an amazing old Colonial-style house—the kind with a parlor and a butler’s pantry, practically no bathrooms but cool hidden stairs leading to the attic. My dad’s old room was up in that attic and it seemed untouched from when he’d lived there as a kid. I’ve always loved odd old books, and there on his book shelf I found my own version of nirvana: a book called Home Fun.

Published in 1910, Home Fun is a giant volume filled with all sorts of kid-friendly activity ideas. The brownish cover features a scary, slightly crazy looking clown and the yellowed pages are filled with instructions for how to construct a stage out of curtains and oil lamps, how to make your own marionettes, how to build a telegraph, how to analyze your friends’ personalities by reading the bumps on their heads or their handwriting, even how to make your own coal gas. (Uh, yeah, that was safe!) Obviously 1910 America had much more faith in the intellect and construction skills of the average ten year old child... and weren’t too worried about explosions or fire! Most of the activities were out of my league, but still I loved reading the book and imagining what might be possible.

Years later, after the publication of A Practical Guide to Monsters, I received a wonderful letter from a pair of boys who told me how after reading the book, they spent weeks pretending to be wizards, creating “potions” and catching monsters in their backyards. That letter got me thinking again about Home Fun. What if there was a book like Home Fun for wannabe wizards?

That "what if" idea got tossed out to A.R. Rotruck who came back to me with an awesome manuscript filled with just the kinds of activities I would have loved as a kid (and what would be titled How to Trap a Zombie, Track a Vampire, and Other Hands-On Activities for Monster Hunters). She devised a way to create a monster-catching net out of yarn, make your own monster-hunting pack out of a pair of old jeans. She had instructions for creating a tanglefoot bag and your very own wizards’ robes.

This was unlike any book I’ve edited before. Not only did I need to make sure the book was fun to read, the sequence made sense, and it would all fit into 80 pages, but I had to make sure the activities worked too! I was determined that, unlike Home Fun, these activities would be accessible and easy to do for ordinary kids. And so armed with pipe cleaners, yarn, cardboard, aluminum foil, and a box of cornstarch, I set to work testing the book. I have a reputation around the office for being a crafting geek, and Wizards of the Coast is certainly not averse to odd happenings in its halls. But even so I felt incredibly sheepish spending my working hours playing at being a monster-hunting wizard! By the end of the first day, I had a lantern built from an oatmeal container hanging from the corner of my cubicle, my floor was covered with cardboard and aluminum scraps leftover from creating a medusa-shield, my pants were coated with cornstarch from testing the tanglefoot bag, and I was so excited about what a cool book this was going to be.

After a few revisions, a round of testing by real kids and a several editing passes, I handed the manuscript off to our art director Kate Irwin and graphic designer Jino Choi who arranged for the venerable Wayne England to create detailed black-and-white illustrations of the activities. I’ve always admired Wayne’s jewel-like illustrations of weapons and items in the Player’s Handbook and his work in this book is no exception. Jino and Kate put it all together in a fun-old-timey design, with yellowed pages, and many more incredible full-color illos of beasties and fantastic fantasy scenes.

The result is irresistible! A.R. Rotruck, the author, has described it as “a scouting guide for young wizards.” Others have described it as Dangerous Book for Books meets A Practical Guide to Monsters. Whatever you want to call it, it’s chock full of fun, practical and easy projects for anyone who wants to imagine they’re embarking on a monster hunting quest.

In anticipation of the book’s release, the author has put together some fun demos to illustrate some of the projects in the book. Check them out below! And pick up a copy of the book at your local retailer. While you’re at it, buy an extra one to store on a bookshelf for your great grandkids to discover some day. Who knows what next great book it will inspire!

How to Make Monster-Catching Net

How to Make Monster-Hunting Pack

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