“Blend of Australian fable and southern culture.”—Sam R. Staley review of “DOWN UNDER”

Down Under: Kussins is the kind of book that will delight early and middle-grade readers and leave parents befuddled, in a good way. The book is the second volume published by the quirky and fun Family Tree Novels by award winning children’s book illustrator M.W. Adams, and follows the very normally abnormal Qweepie family. (No, the family name is not misspelled.)

Driew is the youngest boy in the Qweepie family, and he is constantly tormented by his older “bothers” and “sinisters.” Now that his older sister Killiope is off to boot camp following her high school graduation, older brother Pester has taken up the mantle of chief bully. He combines with other kids in the town of Dawson Springs, Kentucky (a real place) to make Driew’s life miserable.

But the young lad is resilient, and Drew soon finds himself in the company of his Australian friend Guilia and two other boys—Cain and Able—working on the neighbor’s farm. The respite is enough to keep him relatively safe, at least safe enough to develop friendships with other children nearby. But tension and danger escalate as Driew finds his compassion putting himself in vulnerable situations.

As Driew faces each incident and disappointment, he becomes aware of the circuitous and unpredictable turns of life and the mosaic that makes up human nature. What seems clear in one moment is revealed as complicated and knotty in the next. His humility grows, and the reader grows with him. The arrival of a supposedly extinct species of Australian dog seems to arrive just in time to resuscitate his purpose in life.

The Family Tree stories are a rich blend of Australian fable and mythology with the upside of southern culture. Driew’s story is told in “moments,” those events along a “songline” that influence his understanding of life and reveals his path as his life plays out during “dreamtime.” He has already mastered the magical art of sing-song, an ability to summon objects as well as conjure effects such as fire for a torch at critical times.

The quirkiness of the novel is not a gimmick. The odd spellings, unusual references to concepts and myth, and juxtaposition of cultural commentary and Australian myth are intentional. The result is an unusually layered story that engages readers while promoting solid values and understanding of the human condition.

Mark Wayne Adams skill as a storyteller shows through with each turn of the page. He knows his audience, and his deep experience as a writer for young readers allows him to juxtapose wildly divergent storylines in ways that strengthen the tale rather than diffuse its power and focus. He includes enough fantasy and magic to transport young and old readers into new dimensions, to the point the forested acreage of the Qweepie family farm truly seems to be transformed from the Back 40 to the Outback.

Targeted toward a middle-grade audience, Down Under: Kussins is appropriate for any reader who has advanced to chapter books. Adults will likely stumble over of the strange spellings and unfamiliar references, but children will delight in the novelty, magic and fantasy of the story and characters. Mark Wayne Adams fresh approach to the series may well end up igniting an interest in the land Down Under for an entirely new generation.

Sam R. Staley, author of The Pirate of Panther Bay

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DOWN UNDER: Moment One

This complimentary excerpt from DOWN UNDER: Kussins.

—•—

MOMENT ONE

BOUNCES

Ding!

The “Ding” sound beckoned Driew’s chasers.

Driew’s big sister, Killiope, had left for bootcamp a week ago, after her high school graduation. He anticipated a summer break between his sixth and seventh grades, free of sibling torture—not the case. Her handed-down cell phone blasted cryptic messages to him.

Ding!

”U LOST SOMETHING! MEET U OUTBACK W/ IT”

Driew responded to the text message reluctantly.

”KEEP IT!”

Driew thrust the phone over the bluff into the Tradewater River below. You bounces can reach me in person, he thought. Driew refused to accept the bully’s texts. Enduring torments from his remaining bothers and sinisters was enough.

His parents had felt giving Driew a cell phone was pointless, knowing he wouldn’t have service or any intentions to use it while on his Outback adventures. He settled their concerns with that one toss.

Bounces possess unlimited bullying power using uncaring devices. Hurling stoney words online and in person hurts.

Driew felt their painful attack—instantaneously. A white object struck his back. The pain stung between his shoulder blades like his big bother Pester’s lacrosse ball. He ran from the three hooded figures, no longer the four he had been running from his entire life.

Cryptic text messages led him to discover his discarded items in the early summer Outback. Meeting the bounces seemed like an ace idea.

Cawing crows alerted the chasers to Driew’s location. Disguised calls chased behind him, as he tore through new saw briars and blossoming honeysuckle vines.

”There is no family crueler than ours!” called a winded chaser.

The Qweepies’ tired barn silhouetted against the half moon on the ridge. Home at last! The promise of safety, Driew thought, catapulting over the board fence, separating field from forest.

Inside the barn’s shelter, Driew hid inside the last remaining vehicle from the farm cleanup. As he hunkered in the front seat, silhouettes marched along the barn door opening. Why torture me?

He felt for the cell phone’s light, realizing the phone now lit the way toward the Mississippi River. Within a week, he had developed a reliance on its addictive apps and features.

Thirst tightened around his throat, strangling for moisture. He longed for his canteen filled with his Australian friend Gulia’s well water. Having no water or knife left him stranded, armed with only his boomerang. Casting was more dangerous in the dark; the boomerang might hurt him upon its return. The one thing I control, I don’t understand, Driew thought.

From the doorway, three figures surveyed the lifeless barn for Driew’s whereabouts. The tallest culprit stepped into the barn, disappearing in its evening shadows.

An eerie hiss tore through the barn’s dark rafters. The sound grated across Driew’s skin causing his body to paralyze with fear.

”Bobcat! Let’s get outta here!”

Mumbles of fear and laughter raced from the barn, followed by their three shrinking shadows.

Bobcats comforted Driew more than bothers and sinister’s attacks. He guardedly made his way through the barn’s shadows into the field toward the farmhouse’s back porch light.

His parents’ profiles sipped drinks under the porch light. They were acclimated to open-air living and southern cuisine. Driew was acclimated to nightly runs toward their safety.

—•—

Text and illustrations copyright © 2016 by Mark Wayne Adams. All rights reserved. Family Tree Novel is a SYP Kids imprint.

Kussins on The Authors Show

  • M. W. Adams give us a quick synopsis of your Family Tree Novel series and DOWN UNDER: Kussins.

The Family Tree Novel series is a real and relevant story about modern family relationships and hometown history.

In DOWN UNDER: Kussins, Pester’s unyielding pranks force Driew to question his biggest bother’s not-so-loving intentions. During Driew’s countrified lessons with twins, Able and Cain Poe, a brotherly secret surfaces. Driew vows to protect family secrets and moments, carving their words down under the Outback tree’s protective bark.

  • Is there a specific type of reader you had in mind when you wrote your book?

I wrote this book for tween/teen readers to understand family roles and how love works. Whether readers are the oldest, middle, youngest, adopted, blended, or an only child, they’ll related to a Family Tree Novel character. The series’ Walkabout moments offer family perspectives of Driew’s journey along an uprooted Aboriginal songline.

  • What influences your writing style?

Reading is a strong influence. When writing middle grade YA, I must research myself at that age: fears, actions, and reactions to surviving your social tribe. In my youthful exploration of love and family, I used books like: The Five Love Languages of Teenagers, Gary Chapman and Growing Up First Born, Kevin Leman.

Research is a fascinating influence. In the Family Tree Novel series I decided to include my research as second source reading for educators. Beyond the book reading includes: local history, traditions, foods, and social factors.

Lastly words and language are important influence in writing. Words have unique meanings in various cultures. Take for example Caddywompus, (a non-derogatory word to describe functions or actions associated with uncharacteristic behaviors, socially or physically). My neighbor used the word to describe a table with a short leg, or a photo that hung off-centered on the wall.

  • What makes your characters unique?

Each teen characters express love differently based on the role they play in family hierarchy. I also like that each has their own sense of humor that sparkles throughout.

  • Where can we purchase your book?

If visiting the small town from the book, Dawson Springs, Kentucky, Southern Belles and Notions on the town square or Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park gift shop are my two favorites. The books are available at my publisher’s website: syppublishing.com, my website: markwayneadams.com, or any major retailer.

The full interview and original broadcast are available at The Authors Show.