Interview! Children’s author Dave Caswell tells how his book turned learning into an adventure
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- Published on Tuesday, 23 January 2024 09:25
- Last Updated on 22 January 2024
- Monica Costa
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Young readers can now embark on a thrilling educational odyssey with Dave Caswell’s latest children’s book, “Martha Crumble and the Dendro Doorway.” Within the enchanting narrative, Caswell weaves together a tapestry of valuable life lessons, inviting both children and caregivers to join Martha Crumble on an adventure into the magical world of Dendro. This classroom ‘must-have’ promises not only to captivate young minds with exciting escapades but also to serve as a profound teaching tool, emphasising virtues crucial for personal growth and resilience such as courage, forgiveness, and healthy self-esteem.
In “Martha Crumble and the Dendro Doorway,” readers are transported to the mesmerising realm of Dendro — a world teeming with talking animals, gnomes, and magic. Caswell’s storytelling prowess makes this book an ideal choice for both classroom discussions and bedtime stories, resonating with young minds and fostering creativity, engagement, and interaction.
The narrative unfolds on Martha Crumble’s first day at an extraordinary school, where encounters with a peculiar cat, mysterious library books, and an ancient tree’s roots propel her into the mystical world of Dendro. As Martha and her friends grapple with the challenges of saving Dendro, the story seamlessly integrates profound life lessons.
Caswell skilfully incorporates themes of environmental consciousness and the power of nature, inviting young readers to explore the interconnectedness between humanity and the natural world. The book becomes a catalyst for discussions on environmental responsibility, celebrating the growth of Martha Crumble and highlighting the resilience of both character and nature.
Dave Caswell’s extensive background in International Community Development, with a focus on ‘Children at Risk,’ lends depth and authenticity to his storytelling. As the Global Coordinator of Oasis Football for Life, he brings a wealth of experiences from living and working in Uganda, India, North America, and South Africa.
Here’s my interview with Dave Caswell.
What inspired you to create the world of Dendro in “Martha Crumble and the Dendro Doorway”?
Dave Caswell : I’ve always appreciated and enjoyed being in nature and have a particular love for trees: their types, sizes, life cycle, leaves, and flowers. Aside from just the beauty of nature, however, I appreciate the value that nature brings us. I live near woods, and walking amongst the trees is always a good remedy when my mental health is a little poor. I wanted to develop the idea of the relationship between us and nature and how we need to recapture and appreciate the benefits of the natural world. Dendro is a place where nature flourishes and is in harmony with humans, but the relationship with our world is broken because of how we have treated nature. I wanted to create a world that would excite children and encourage them to investigate and explore the world they live in and how we can take better care of it.
Can you share the process of developing Martha Crumble as a character and the challenges you faced in bringing her to life?
Dave Caswell : Martha Crumble is a little like me, so in many ways, it was easy to define her character. She’s a bit of a worrier and definitely an over-thinker, and I think many children (and adults) also struggle with that. I wanted to reflect those struggles in the character of Martha. How would I feel about being faced with the challenges she is facing, and how would I react, especially at that age? Her journey throughout the book is very much a reflexion of challenges I’ve faced.
In all my books, the focus is very much on how character is developed in children and young people, both positively and negatively. I have worked with children and youth for over 30 years on four different continents, so I have significant knowledge of the importance of certain values and how they can be developed in young people. I wanted to create situations where opportunities to show these virtues are presented, and to explore how Martha and her friends would react. There are different responses from the different characters at different times, which I hope reflects the struggles that children also face. It was a conscious decision to create these scenarios while remaining true to the overarching theme of the book.
Environmental consciousness and the power of nature are central themes in the book. How did you approach incorporating these themes into the narrative in a way that resonates with young readers?
Dave Caswell : I tried to present nature in an interesting and magical way, as a close friend and partner of humanity, rather than somewhere we just live. One of the key themes in the book is that Dendro and our world are connected through nature (specifically through tree roots), and I wanted readers to view nature as such. What if we were really connected? What if that tree could take us to Dendro? What if what we do here has an impact on the world of Dendro? Martha and her friends are given a task to save Dendro, and in turn to save our world, and I wanted that to be the focus of readers as they journeyed through the story. There are forests, mountains, caves, meadows, through the story, and I tried to communicate the beauty of nature as something worth saving.
“Martha Crumble and the Dendro Doorway” is described as a teaching tool. How do you envision teachers and caregivers using this book in educational settings, especially for classroom discussions?
Dave Caswell : My other books were specifically written for an educational setting with questions for discussion at the end of each chapter. They have been well received and used in schools, but with ‘Martha,’ I wanted the story to flow more and for the themes and issues for discussion to be more subtle; there’s a danger when writing to teach particular educational themes that you sacrifice the narrative in the process. I think the way this book is written automatically raises environmental issues and care and concern for the world. In a classroom context, I can see children reading a chapter or two by themselves, and then discussing what they have read as a class. Lots of the places, characters, and creatures are named after certain trees, animals, mythology, legends, etc. So there’s certainly scope for them to find out more about them. I think the themes are clear, so it’s an easy task for a teacher to pick up on feedback and help the children go a little deeper. I could see schools doing projects on certain trees or creating environmental campaigns.
The story involves Martha and her friends saving Dendro. Can you discuss the challenges you faced in creating a gripping and suspenseful plot suitable for young readers?
Dave Caswell: There is always a challenge in keeping readers engaged, but I had to be very careful to have enough plot twists and cliffhangers to keep readers interested but not too many that they got confused! This is always a challenge with young readers, and I was very careful to ensure what I was writing contributed to the theme of the book. I think if that is clear, then it’s easy to create twists to keep children interested while keeping them focused on the end goal and mission that Martha has undertaken.
Martha Crumble’s first day at a new school takes a fantastical turn. How did you balance the elements of a typical school day with the magical world of Dendro?
Dave Caswell: The school and Dendro are subtly linked, so there’s always that element of magic and mystery between the two. The story starts with Martha’s first day at school, and I tried to communicate common themes around that: nervousness, new people, a new (and confusing) place, meeting new teachers (with different characteristics and personalities).
Alongside that, it becomes quite clear early on that the school is no ordinary school. Martha goes about a typical first day in a new school, but the call of Dendro is never far away. There are strange and mysterious people at the school and also a very strange library – these are things any child might experience on their first day at a new school, but the link to Dendro brings the magic to the mundane.
The book is part of a series. What challenges did you encounter in developing a series, and how did you ensure continuity and engagement across multiple books?
Dave Caswell: It is part of a series – but this is the first book! I hope to have the second book out in November/December 2024. Apologies if the cover suggests the series already exists. This was purely because it will – at some point.
As a writer with a background in International Community Development, how did your experiences influence the themes and messages in “Martha Crumble and the Dendro Doorway”?
Dave Caswell: A lot. As I’ve mentioned, I have worked in children’s and youth work for over 30 years (although for a number of years in senior leadership positions), and much of what I write comes from my experiences. I’ve seen the resilience and determination of children in abject poverty and also the impact of challenging backgrounds on character development and formation. I feel my experiences, much of it on the ground in the developing world, have given me a deep understanding of child development and character formation. This helped me a great deal in developing characters and scenarios within the book. In reality, I have not experienced children travelling to different worlds or fighting fierce magical creatures, but metaphorically that is very much what I have seen. In some ways, Martha Crumble and the Dendro Doorway are a metaphor for the life and experiences many children go through, on all four continents I have worked.
I have also seen a lot of beautiful nature in the places I have worked (Africa, Asia, North America) but also the lack of care and respect for nature, as well as the macro challenges in terms of politics and financial sustainability that impact countries, communities, and individuals, and as a consequent, environmental impact.
What do you hope young readers will take away from Martha’s adventures in Dendro, and how do you see this book contributing to their personal and environmental awareness?
Dave Caswell: As with any book, I hope children will finish reading ‘Martha Crumble and the Dendro Doorway’ with a sense of joy and wonder. My hope is that ‘Martha Crumble and the Dendro Doorway’ can open up readers’ minds to the excitement of new possibilities, to give them courage to face their fears and overcome them, and to consider more carefully their thoughts and actions and the impact they have on others. I hope readers will gain a fresh and compelling interest in nature and the environment and find for themselves the mystery and magic that they found in the book, also in the world they live in.
To explore more of Caswell’s literary creations, visit his official website.
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums