If you’re looking for a new springtime read, check out The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff. It’s the adventurous tale of Brian who has to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in Illinois.
For Brian, there are a few places he’d rather spend his summer. Jail, for example. Or an earplug factory. Anything would be better than doing summer school on a computer while his scientist dad is stationed at the South Pole.
Boring lives up to its name until Brian and his cousin Nora have a fight, get lost, and discover a huge, wooden house in the forest. With balconies, turrets, and windows seemingly stuck on at random, it looks ready to fall over in the next stiff breeze. To the madcap, eccentric family that lives inside, it’s not just a home—it’s a castle.
Suddenly, summer gets a lot more exciting. With their new friends, Brian and Nora tangle with giant wasps, sharp-tusked wild boars, and a crazed bureaucrat intent on bringing the dangerously dilapidated old house down with a wrecking ball.
This funny, fantastical story will resonate with any reader who’s ever wished a little adventure would find them.
Author Keir Graff, the mastermind behind The Matchstick Castle, took some time out of his bust schedule to chat with Boys’ Life about his new books, writing advice, cool books and more.
What can you tell us about The Matchstick Castle?
It’s a fast-moving book about summer adventure that I hope will have you laughing as you race through the pages! Eleven-year-old Brian Brown’s plans for the perfect summer fall apart when his scientist father is sent to the South Pole and Brian is sent to live with his uncle and aunt in Boring, Illinois. Brian’s smarty-pants cousin Nora hates his guts and, even worse, his Uncle Gary expects him to stay indoors all day testing educational software.
It’s the worst summer ever—until Brian kicks a soccer ball over the fence, gets lost in the forest with Nora, and discovers a huge, old, dangerously dilapidated wooden house that’s home to Cosmo van Dash and his eccentric family of adventurers. Brian, Nora, and Cosmo fight giant Amazonian wasps, rescue an uncle who’s been lost in the enormous house for a whole year, and try to save the house itself from a crazy guy with a wrecking ball.
How did you come up with the book?
I wanted to write an epic adventure that took place in a single house, which meant I had to come up with a house big enough—and interesting enough—to contain the action. I’ve always loved exploring unusual buildings and old houses, so I drew on some of own favorites, from the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, to House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, for weird and wacky details. I wanted my fictional house, which the van Dash family calls “the Matchstick Castle,” to be full of surprises. So far, readers seem to agree that it is!
Why do you think reading is so important for kids?
Because it’s fun, and kids deserve to have lots of fun! It’s also a great way to satisfy our natural curiosity about other people, places, and times, even if those people, places, and times are completely made up. If I can be more serious for a moment, I think travel is a great way to learn about the world and ourselves, and reading is a kind of travel. Because kids don’t usually get to pick the family’s vacations (and some kids don’t have any opportunities to travel), reading is a kind of travel and escape that everyone can enjoy.
Aside from your own books, what are some of your favorite books for kids?
I love Roald Dahl, and my favorite book of his is Danny the Champion of the World, in which a father teaches his son how to poach pheasants. It’s funny, scary, sad, and sweet, too. Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain (starting with The Book of Three) were fourth-grade favorites and I still love them today. I am inspired by the imagination of Daniel Pinkwater, particularly in his amazing Lizard Music. John Bellairs’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls is one of the best haunted-house stories ever. And, even though not too many kids read it today, Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain was a favorite of both mine and my brother’s when we were growing up. We lived next to a mountain and we made our own plans — unfortunately never put into action — to live wild on the other side.
What’s next for you?
A book called The Phantom Tower. It’s about two identical twins who move with their mother into an old, luxury high-rise apartment building in Chicago only to find they might never be able to move out again. It’s modeled after the building I live in with a few key differences. (I haven’t been able to find a portal to another dimension, for example.)
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Read! Read for fun, read to learn — above all, read the writers who inspire you. Life is long and there’s lots of time to improve your writing, but you can’t be a great writer without a lifetime of reading. And when you’re ready to start writing, don’t be afraid to try anything.