The Guelph Mercury

Getting Into A Book

Children can find themselves smack in the middle of an adventure story!

By Joanne Shuttleworth 
The Guelph Mercury 

Children's Adventure
- Mike Pocock, owner of London based Book By You Publishing, holds a copy of "The Golden Key" a personalized children's adventure story.

Curly up with an exciting adventure novel could be the ultimate escape!

Safe in the confines of an armchair, the reader is whisked around the world, can travel through time, can face and over-come insurmountable odds.

Well, move over Harry Potter. There's a new adventure hero in town, and it's you!

Mike Pocock, founder of London, Ontario based Book By You Publishing, has just launched his first full-length, personalized children's novel called "The Golden Key."

With the information given in a character questionnaire, readers will find themselves smack in the middle of the book. It is not an unknown character who crosses the Land of Shadows, but you - or your child, or whoever you've given the story to. 

"Putting children's names in the storyline really drives the message home," said Pocock. "It can motivate and can teach. It's very powerful.

Pocock's first foray into the world of personalized novels was just last year when launched a personalized romance novel called Love's Next Door.  It was geared to the adult reader who found herself locked in an embrace with the guy next door, whose name and features are just like her husband or boyfriend, or...

"We received wonderful feedback from the romance novel," Pocock said.  It really pulled on people's emotions. I started thinking if these books can affect emotions, they can deliver messages too."

So Pocock headed to the library where he did extensive research into children's writers.  And he found a little-known but imaginative adventure writer in George MacDonald.

Your child's best friend plays an important role in the story as well!

"MacDonald was a mentor to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien back in 1867.  His stories are absolutely phenomenal," Pocock said.

But most of MacDonald's stories are deep and dark and Pocock said that as they are, MacDonald's stories are not really meant for children. But there was one, 'The Golden Key" that particularly caught his fancy and Pocock decided to used it as the basis of his personalized children's adventure concept.

What appealed to Pocock about 'The Golden Key' story was the whole concept of aging. In the story the elders are held regard and as they gain wisdom - they appear physically younger.

So the Old Man of the Sea, the Old Man of Fire, and the Old Man of the Earth are pivotal characters and they impart their wisdom to the hero - remember - that's you - in the quest to solve the mystery of the shadows.

As the original story was adapted, growing from MacDonald's 10,000 words to Pocock's 18,000 the underlying themes of the value of friendship, perseverance and following your dreams was strengthened.

"There is no violence or frightening scenes and it's much brighter and more up-lifting than MacDonald's original manuscript. It is completely appropriate for children and adults will enjoy it too," Pocock said.

Pocock was intrigued by the land of shadows and includes instructions on how to make shadow puppets.  Three shadow characters - a bird, an elephant and a dog - are part of the story, and learning to make them also becomes part of the readers and characters quest.

There are personalized picture books on the market but Pocock hasn't found anything more than 20-page picture books with a child's name plopped in the text.  The Golden Key is a real novel with 100 pages of action and adventure. and the personal details that enter the story include appearance along with the names of friends and pet and family.

Indeed, your child's best friend plays an important part in the story as well.  The hero and best friend are separated on their journey and in finding the source of the shadows, they also find each other.

"That wasn't the theme of MacDonald's book but it's a good message for children." Pocock explained, adding that the book is appropriate as a bedtime story for ages 6 and under and as a chapter book for children of reading age. 

Pocock did an interview for CBC radio and said that within two minutes he got a call from a teacher in Toronto who gave the book glowing reports.  "Personalization motivates children to read and learn," Pocock said. "She understood how this would encourage the slow reader and encourage the advanced reader.  To actually be a character in a novel is a great motivator. The teacher was very excited about this." he said.

A passage from Chapter 5 of - offers a glimpse of how the story unfolds. The hero - here he's called Bobby but it would be your child's name instead -and his best friend are separated and Bobby meets up with the Old Man of the Sea who offers some assistance:

     "Bobby it is quite a long journey and I don't know the way my self, but I can send you to the Old Man of the Earth. Perhaps he can tell you how to find this shadow land that you are seeking. He is much older and wiser than I," said the Old Man of the Sea. 
      "Who is the Old Man of the Earth?" asked Bobby, brushing his brown hair from his forehead. 
      "Oooh, he is very old. I joke with him about being older than dirt. When he laughs it creates thunder and lightning in your world," the old man said with a twinkle in his eye.  Then he continued, "You see, I am the keeper of the seas and my purpose is to watch over all that live within the sea and oceans of the world. The Old Man of the Earth lives within the earth and watches overall creatures and animals that are of your world. I know him well and one thing is certain - he will find your friend Tommy if anyone can. Come to my home and rest a while before your journey." 

In his other life, Pocock is an inventor with several interactive television patents. Although he saw the personalized novel concept to be a 'low tech' venture, he now sees a marvelous opportunity to expand Book By You into specialized publishing niches in conjunction with e-books and customized web site. 

"Once a child finishes reading the book, he or she will be able to log onto our web site and take part in interactive activities related to the personalized novel they've just read. There's also potential to develop e-books," explained Pocock. "I think we are going surprise a lot of people in the publishing world."

While reading chapters off a computer screen is no substitute for curling up with a good book, Pocock said sample personalized chapters sent via e-mail to specific clients can entice readers to order sequels in the series. 

And for those adult readers who loved the first romance novel, love is in the air once again, this time in a book called Medieval Passion. 

The books sells for $24.95 (plus shipping and handling) and can be ordered through their web site: or by phoning (519)439-6100.  While on the web site you can also try out a personalized demonstration of each of the books.

Reprinted courtesy of The Guelph Mercury