Full confession. If we could choose to do anything, we’d choose to be real Pack-n-Go Girls. We’d travel the world, discovering exotic locales, sampling tasty local cuisines, and encountering people who shift our perspective of the world. Travel feeds our curiosity, which only makes us more curious.
Another full confession. Kids and budgets and life too often keep us tethered to home. So we’ve done the next best thing and created a line of books about discovering the world. If we can’t actually jump on a plane and travel to Australia, we can at least devour books about Australia, scour the internet for interesting gems, chat up our Australian friends about what’s true and what’s folklore [and pick up some crazy new idioms for describing it], and Google the earth to explore the cities and the back country. So when we create our mysteries, we can almost feel the dusty air of the outback, the steamy jungles of the Amazon, or the early morning mist in a Mexican estuary. It’s not like truly being on the ground there, but it’s still a ton of fun and it still stretches our view of the world.
Our discovery. Along the way, though, we discovered writing travel adventure mysteries for kids isn’t just something we love; it’s something we feel passionate about. Why? Because travel builds appreciation, tolerance, and empathy for others. Need we say more? Travel also encourages curiosity, independence, and a sense of adventure—characteristics we can never champion enough for our daughters. And because not every child can hop on a plane and travel to a new locale, books are an important way to get us there.
Another discovery. Children’s books in the United States aren’t getting us there. In 2015, only 14% of children’s books have multicultural characters, and yet the US population is 40% multicultural. How do we build tolerance, let alone empathy, if we never see others on the pages of the books we read or we only see ourselves?
Our mission has been and always will be to expand the world for young readers so they can better understand the diversity of cultures and the richness each one contributes to the world. We want them to see that there are so many ways to do life right, to live fully, richly, joyfully. And hopefully along the way, our books will lead to acceptance, tolerance, empathy, and ultimately—yes—equality.
We hope you, too, feel passionate about this mission. Join us and spread the word. Please.
We get asked these questions a lot. We mean A LOT. So, for our more curious readers, we thought we’d answer a few here.
JANELLE: Writing is a process. The first draft of a book takes me about a week, but months before I write my first sentence, I’m thinking, thinking, thinking. In what country does the story take place? Who are the characters? How do they meet? What’s interesting about them? What’s the setting? What are things I want to make sure and capture about the country? What’s the mystery? How is the mystery typical of the country? Why is it hard to solve? What would be realistic for the age of the characters? What are the important plot points that add tension? How do I make it scary without making it too scary? And on and on. During this time, I’m also reading about the country and researching possible ideas.
Once I’ve noodled through this, I write a simple outline. It’s nothing more than a couple of sentences about what needs to happen in each chapter. When I have that organized, I finally start to write. I try to block out a week or so where I don’t have other distractions, and then I write. Some writers prefer to write a really rough first draft and then edit that. My style is to edit as I go along so that when I give the first draft to Lisa to read, it’s probably 80-90% there. It’s a slower process, but it works for me.
And then from there, it’s a revising and editing process. It’s the most important part of writing. This is where it’s especially important to have other readers to bounce the manuscript off of. They tell me if the story works and what doesn’t work or make sense.
LISA: I guess I was always a writer, but I didn’t really know it. When I was in 5th grade, I wrote my first book for a class project. It was called The Case of the Missing Diamonds. I’ve always had stories in my head, so I kept writing them down. Then one day I decided it would be fun to share the stories with others. Everyone has stories in their head. What’s your story?
ADAM: That honor goes to me. My name is Adam [Turner], and I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with Lisa and Janelle since the first book. It sounded like an intriguing project, so I threw my hat in the ring with some ideas on how to portray a selected scene (the two girls looking over the balcony in The Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost). At that time, I had been illustrating in other capacities, but was drawn to the idea of partnering with an author/authors to create an engaging, illustrated, story.
ADAM: Janelle, Lisa and I have landed on a really good system on what leads to the final illustration. Their stories are already so visual in description, that the starting point is always a breeze. Their text describes the action and mood of the moment to be illustrated. And, although, the text also is somewhat descriptive of the surroundings, there is still plenty of room for artistic interpretation. With that in mind, I sketch out the essentials of what they need to include visually, but also try to bring something new to the image that adds an additional dimension to the reader’s experience… whether it be expression, humor or surroundings.
JANELLE: I’m lucky. I’ve been to over 45 countries and can’t wait to explore more. Just this last year, I spent time in Portugal, Austria, China, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Canada, and, of course, Mexico. I hope in the next year or two, I’ll make it to Africa. I don’t know which country I’ll explore, but I know I’ll find it fascinating!
LISA: I loved to read Nancy Drew books. I loved mysteries. And I still do. That’s why I write mysteries. P.S. I also love Scooby Doo. Best cartoon ever.
LISA: Yes! I have a girl who is 12. She is who inspired me to write children’s books. Janelle has two boys who are older now. One of them is married and has a baby girl. Adam has a daughter too.
JANELLE: You won’t ever actually meet Brooke or Nong May or Wendy, but you’ll meet girls like them all the time. I’m always thinking of real people I know when I write.
JANELLE: Barra de Navidad is a sweet little town full of friendly people. It’s safe to walk the streets at any time, whether you’re getting freshly baked pastries for breakfast or stopping to get a frozen fruit bar on the street after dinner. I love eating cheap tacos on the street any time of day. And, of course, Thursday is my favorite day in Barra because it’s tianguis day!
LISA: Yes. Many times. I’d like to think that the first draft of each book is a masterpiece. That it’s perfect. That it’s done. But Janelle doesn’t let me off that easy. She reminds me that every good book is so much better when we work hard to revise it. So, we edit the book. And edit it. And edit it. And there is not enough space here to list how many times we edit it. But it’s a A LOT!
ADAM: I ultimately pursued this venue due to the creative freedom. Children’s books allow for so much expression. My past experience with illustration has often had fairly defined boundaries to meet corporate branding standards or needed to convey a very specific message with tight guidelines. Children’s books can often offer limitless creative interpretations: composition, expression, color, mood, etc. All these elements lend themselves to a specific snapshot in time… not just a concept. The blessing of working with Lisa and Janelle is that they encourage my interpretation and creative expression. They hold tight to the core message of the book, but are incredibly flexible when it comes to allowing me to portray it the way I see it. That’s the type of process that drew me to children’s books.
JANELLE: This question is too tough because I have so many favorite places, including endless places in the United States. I love the emptiness and dramatic vistas of New Zealand, the mysterious narrow back alleyways of Suzhou [have to look up the spelling for this], the yummy breads and pastries of France, the tidy and quaint streets of the Dutch star fort towns, the genuine warmth of Mexicans, the exotic world of Myanmar temples—well, just about every place I’ve gone has given me a favorite place.
LISA: Traveling builds fun memories that you will have for your whole life. I’ve traveled across the United States in a Volkswagen camper, flown in a Chinook helicopter over Seoul, South Korea, been scolded by polizei in East Berlin, escaped death by jellyfish in the South China sea, danced to ‘Come on Eileen’ in a sketchy Prague dance club, run into the Belgian military at midnight while carrying a torch, signed a “I won’t blame you if I die” waiver to stand in North Korea at Panmunjom, and dined in a dungeon in Spain (well, okay, it was just a cellar storage area, but we were behind bars).
JANELLE: I’ve always loved to write stories. Those were my favorite assignments every year in school. It seemed like we never had enough assignments like that. When I was in high school, I had a teacher convince me to submit my story to a magazine. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when the magazine published the story and paid me!
JANELLE: You’ll have to read Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost to find out.
LISA: Some Thai people believe it does. It’s part of their history and culture.
ADAM: My drawings are a mix of what I draw from my own head along with accurate reference. I really enjoy just drawing from my own head. I often find that pulling from references conflict with creative depiction. However, when it comes to educating, there are elements that have to be accurate, or we mislead the reader. For the Toucan, I had several references (there are many different types of Toucans). We landed on the type of Toucan we wanted to represent, and I drew from its basic shape and its colors. From that point, I put the references away and focused on character. I wanted the character of the toucan to come out. I tried to do this with body posture, facial expression, and bright colors.
JANELLE: Isn’t that a fun mystery? I stumbled across stories about the Min Min Lights when I was researching ideas for the first Australia book. The lights are real and have been spotted for hundreds of years. Here’s the best part the mystery: no one knows for sure exactly what causes them.
Pack-n-Go Girls engages the imagination of children ages 6-9 by introducing them to different countries around the world. Pack-n-Go Girls early chapter book adventures are packed with spooky mysteries, international friendships, and lots of fun and easy multicultural learning.
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, CO, Pack-n-Go Girls specializes in creating innovative stories and toys for girls that deliver positive messages around independence, adventure, and global awareness. Our vision is simple. We want kids to be curious, to value other cultures, and to have a sense of adventure in a boundaryless world. We appreciate the diversity of cultures and the richness each one contributes to the world. We strive to create greater understanding through finding commonalities as well as understanding the differences that make us unique.