J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket, each in their distinctive ways, showed that kids will read if you give them something they like.
For Darrin and Karen Brege, its a zippy, funny series of adventure stories offering readers a chance to choose different endings.
Darrin illustrates the books, in which Mick Morris is a dead ringer for the Breges' 10-year-old son, Mick, and shares Mick's love of adventure, imagination and sense of humor. All family traits, as everything in the Brege family, began with comedy. Darrin, a Plymouth Canton High School graduate, went to California to study animation after graduating from Albion College in 1990. When he returned to Michigan he took a job animating for Disney at the Animation Station in Ann Arbor and tried out for Karen Bell's improv troupe Totally Unhearsed Theatre at Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle. Karen, a Troy High School graduate, had studied broadcasting at college and did improv in Chicago and Florida.
MICK THE MYTH BUSTER
Humor brought Darrin and Karen together. The two had a talent for voices, riffing on Archie and Edith, Boris and Natasha, Homer and Marge Simpson. They loved doing improv, but after spending every Tuesday night for 13 years at the Comedy Castle, the troupe was canceled. The Breges regrouped. Karen was doing speaking engagements and Darrin was dividing his time between comedic voices for sports radio station 1130 WDFN-AM, voiceovers and illustrating children's books. They decided to do their own.
"We had been writing so many comedy sketches, we said we'll take a shot at it," Karen said. "We had the writing background, we had the comedy background, we had this awesome 10-year-old who knows what's scary and has creative skills himself."
The series, written by Karen and illustrated by Darrin, features young Mick Morris, son of TV producers who track down popular myths. But it is really Mick, his buddy Nathan and his cousin Sissy who confront the myths. The first book in the series was All Isn't Well in Roswell about aliens, the second is Bigfoot ... Big Trouble. The books are keyed to readers ages 7-12.
5 WAYS TO FINISH
And there's a gimmick called Five Ways to Finish. "The selling point of this is that we have five different endings," Darrin said.
The first book includes normal, scary, silly, superhero and short endings. The second has normal, scary, western, talk show and comic book endings. Deciding the endings is a family thing. "There were all kinds of genres in our performances and it has carried over into our books," Karen said. "It's a family collaboration. We'd say, 'What kind of ending would this have?' I'd have a normal ending, Darrin would have a silly ending and Mick would say it needs to be scary. Let's have them read to a point and have their own ending. It's really five books in one." The Breges say the books have been going "gangbusters." And after 60 visits to schools and bookstores they've been getting a good response from young readers. They take their performance background to the stores and involve children in their fun. Son Mick has been a rich source for authenticity.
"Once my mom said do you say 'groovy' and I said NO!," Mick said. Mick is a creative artist himself.
He has become a fan of Nick Park (Wallace and Grommit) and Tim Burton (The Corpse Bride) and makes his own stop action movies.Next up in the series is Champ .. A Wave of Terror about a monster in Lake Champlain, due in October. They are working on another series on ghost hunting skateboarders.
The family lives in Brighton.