As any traveling parent knows, life on the road is an adventure all its own. Some people embody that concept more fully than others. Take Taylor Zajonc, a maritime historian, dad, shipwreck expert and modern-day buccaneer whose past includes exploring the mysterious waters of the Bermuda Triangle while on a submersible three miles beneath the surface of the ocean.
A member of the world-renowned Explorers Club, Zajonc’s most recent real-life adventure is in publishing. He’s the author of the Wrecking Crew book series about high-octane, deep sea intrigue; adventure novels that expand on the tradition of tales made popular by Clive Cussler and Michael Crichton; The Maw, an engrossing thriller set within the depths of an ancient cave; and The Adventures of Samuel Oliver, a fun series of brilliantly illustrated children’s adventure stories.
Zajonc recently shared with us his thoughts on how books can inspire children to embrace adventure wherever they are in the world — from backyards and libraries to a wild ocean on the other side of the planet.
Whereverfamily.com: When it comes to adventurers, you’re the real deal. You’re also a dad. Can you tell us how The Adventures of Samuel Oliver came to be?
TAYLOR ZAJONC: I’d dedicated my last novel to my son Sammy, but it always bothered me there would be a massive part of my life that would be inaccessible until he was a teenager or older. When I got an opportunity to write an illustrated children’s series, I immediately said yes. The series is about a family of deep-sea divers in the early days of World War I, and the themes are all about finding the wonders of the world, and the strength within yourself to explore them.
Whereverfamily.com: How was working on a children’s series different than writing adult adventure fiction?
TZ: I was selfish with this project! I wrote the books I wanted to read out loud to Sammy during his nightly story time. The books were a challenge, and my inner perfectionist wasn’t much help. My goal was to create something that could last my family a lifetime, something Sammy might even be able to read to his own child someday. I’ve always loved children’s books, but ended this project with a newfound respect for those who work so hard to bring them to life.
Whereverfamily.com: The Samuel Oliver books are both exciting and empowering: We love rooting for a young hero, and know children will find themselves swept into an imaginary world where they’re right there by Samuel’s side, helping him save the day. What’s your advice to other parents who hope to show their children anything is possible if you work toward a goal?
TZ: One of the hardest things we can do as parents is let our children take on the absurd and mystifying. As adults, our inner conversations are often about practicalities, not imagination.
I try to get out of Sammy’s way. If he asks to do something, and it’s not unsafe or unkind, I try to say yes. This is harder than it seems — I always want to help him succeed or nudge his ideas in a direction that make sense to an adult. Child logic is not always recognizable.
The one thing I’m unyielding about is trying. I’ll help him with things and do things for him, but only if he gives it his own best shot first. Then we’ll work on it together. Oftentimes, he doesn’t need me, and he’s able to accomplish things beyond what he thought he could do. These are little things, like climbing the big wall at the playground. But I’m hoping to see it build.
Whereverfamily.com: Do you think Sammy is aware yet that the settings and some events in these stories are based on the experiences of his own dad?
TZ: He’s getting there. Sammy recognizes “daddy’s books” when he sees them on the shelf or on screen, but he’s at an age where I can’t really tell him too much family or personal history and have it stick. When I first told him that daddy took a submarine to the bottom of the ocean, he didn’t believe me at all! I was quite proud of his skepticism, and we turned it into a fun teachable moment, complete with photos and a version of the story a 3-year-old could kinda get. Not sure if any of it stuck or not, but that’s okay. I’ll take imagination over fact any day of the week, at least at this age.
Whereverfamily.com: What kinds of things do you do as a parent to bring adventure into your own son’s life?
TZ: Every day is an adventure with the real Samuel Oliver! He’s three and a half now, and Portland, Oregon, is an amazing place to raise a kid. We spend our summer weekends berry picking, visiting parks, the zoo and the science museum. I just got a canoe, and we can’t wait to start exploring our local rivers and lakes.
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