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When Hayley and her friends stumble across a secret in the journal of her late archeologist grandfather, they know they're in for an adventure, but they just don't realize how big and dangerous it will be. Join Hayley, Alex and Spence for the quest of a lifetime in English teacher Helen D. Bailie's debut novel "The Azura Stones," a story filled with plenty of kid-approved imaginative fun, and edifying themes parents and teachers will appreciate.
Interview with Helen D. Bailie
The Azura Stones
Bedside Books (2007)
Reviewed by (age 10) for Reader Views (11/07)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is happy to be joined by Helen Bailie, who is here to talk about her new children’s book “The Azura Stones.”
Helen Bailie was born in Brisbane, Australia. As a secondary school teacher, she always desired to instill a love of reading in her students as well as to help them become lifelong learners and readers. She has realized the significant role teachers play in the lives of children as they grow and develop into young adults, and she treasures the opportunities she has had to help her students to develop good reading skills, to excel in their chosen careers and to become productive members of society.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Helen. I understand “The Azura Stones” is an adventure some children have during their school vacation. To begin, will you tell us a little bit about Hayley and what makes her an interesting main character?
Helen: I have portrayed my main character, Hayley, as being the ultimate heroine—courageous, bold, genuine and loyal; the individual in the novel who remains steadfast and strong in any situation. Hayley has a very positive outlook on life; she doesn’t dwell on the negatives when in a crisis. She has the initiative and drive to work through difficult situations and the strength to encourage her friends when the going gets tough. She enjoys new challenges and thrives in settings where she is faced with new problems to tackle, though at the same time, is realistic and logical when making decisions. It is her strength, determination and loyalty that helps pull her friends through the difficult times they face on their dangerous adventure.
Tyler: What is it that Hayley finds that begins the adventure?
Helen: At the onset of the novel, the reader learns that Hayley’s grandfather, a world-renowned archaeologist, has died and that all of his expedition journals have vanished. His death was very sudden, which makes Hayley wonder if he did in fact die of natural causes. It is when she accidentally stumbles across his last journal, something he had kept a secret from her and her parents, that she realizes the significance of what he had discovered up on Silvertop Mountain and just how dangerous his last expedition had been. This is the beginning of an adventure that she and her friends will never forget.
Tyler: Why does Hayley include her friends in the adventure and what do they add to the story?
Helen: Hayley, Alex and Spence have been friends since primary school. When an article entitled “Gold Found in Niobe River” appears in the local newspaper, Hayley and her friends decide to plan a camping trip during their summer break. While in the attic looking for camping gear and prospecting pans, the children stumble across Hayley’s grandfather’s journal outlining the expedition he had been working on before he died. In his journal, he mentions that he found the lost Native American civilization he was searching for and has also discovered some very strange looking stones that this tribe possessed. He died, though, before the stones could be retrieved. The children realize the importance and urgency of finding these stones, so they take matters into their own hands and follow Hayley’s grandfather’s map in search of the Azura Stones.
Hayley, Alex and Spence are the best of friends, and at the beginning of the novel, the reader can see the loyalty, trust and the close bond they have with one another. When Spence, though, is placed in a difficult situation, he chooses to handle it himself rather than confiding in his two friends. Throughout the novel, we see a change in Spence’s personality as he struggles with the decision he has made and the dilemma he has put himself in. This puts a strain on the friendship and makes for some interesting twists in the storyline that the reader will not expect.
Tyler: Helen, will you tell us what exactly are the Azura Stones and why are they so important to find?
Helen: The Azura Stones are unlike any stones that have been discovered before. Sapphire in colour with a strange, snowflake design in the center that glows in the dark, they have very special properties that the children are unaware of until partway through the novel.
A note left by Hayley’s grandfather highlights that other men—men part of a notorious crime gang—are aware that such stones exist and they too are searching for the Azura Stones. The children realize that only Hayley’s grandfather’s journal holds the key to where these stones are located. The children are determined to follow the map Hayley’s grandfather left in his journal and find the stones before they fall into the wrong hands.
Tyler: You mentioned that the stones belonged to a lost Native American civilization. Will you tell us more about this civilization, and why the stones were important to its people?
Helen: Archaeologists believe that the first Native Americans came to the Americas from Asia and settled in the southwest part of the United States. The civilization in my novel is based on the possibility that a small group separated and chose to live in the northwest mountain ranges. Over time, a legend developed amongst the surrounding Indian tribes about a mysterious tribe living in the Cascades. The legend told of strange stones that they possessed—stones so powerful that other tribes were afraid to enter into their territory. The importance of these stones and this tribe are discussed in detail throughout the novel.
Tyler: Will you tell us about the children’s journey to reach the Azura Stones?
Helen: The children, who live in the fictitious town of Shastar Hills in Washington State, have to hike up Silvertop Mountain, a dormant volcano located in the Cascade Mountain Range. Being summertime, much of the mountainside is overgrown, making the hike more difficult than the children realize. The fact that the children have taken matters into their own hands by going alone into the Cascades heightens the suspense throughout the novel as the reader is left wondering about the possible dangers that lie ahead for them on their adventure.
Tyler: Why did you choose to set the novel in Washington State? Besides the town of Shastar Hills that you fictionalized, did you create a lot of other aspects of the setting, or will people familiar with Washington recognize the area?
Helen: I traveled through Washington State on my last trip to the United States. There were so many beautiful areas that I visited that it became the inspiration for my novel. Even though most of the geographical locations in my novel are fictitious, I have made reference to Lake Chelan, the Columbia River, and Rattlesnake Flat (which I renamed Rattlesnake Plains in the novel) so people familiar with Washington should be able to determine where Shastar Hills would be located.
Tyler: What kinds of responses have you received so far from readers of “The Azura Stones”?
Helen: I have received excellent feedback so far from parents, teachers and children. The target market is 11-14 years, though I am pleased to say that I have received very positive feedback from many children as young as 10 and as old as 16, so the plotline, characterizations and themes I have developed throughout the novel have proven to be appealing to children and teenagers of varying ages.
Many parents and teachers feel that the themes I have addressed in the novel make it an excellent piece of adolescent fiction. “Teachers and parents looking for ways to positively influence adolescents will find lots of things to talk about in this book. This book is the jewel that outshines all other gems in the jewelry box.”
- The Reading Tub ®
“A nail biting adventure ideal for children’s libraries.” - Midwest Book Review
I have received many letters and emails from children both in the USA and in Australia that state that they found “The Azura Stones” to be “an enjoyable and exciting read,” “a fantastic suspense story with an engaging plot,” “a book that can be enjoyed over and over again,” “a brilliant book with an excellent plot, great descriptions and a smashing ending.”
I have included copies of other reviews and letters on my website.
Tyler: Helen, what gave you the idea to write “The Azura Stones”?
Helen: I have always loved to read and have fond memories of days spent as a child reading classic adventure novels. I have realized the importance of children developing good literacy skills and that such skills do improve significantly when a child enjoys reading.
Throughout the years that I have been a teacher, I have noticed a decline in the number of children who enjoy reading and, ultimately, a decline in literacy skills. Many children seem to struggle with literacy, which affects their enjoyment of reading. I wanted to write a book that would be full of adventure and suspense, as well as written in a simpler style to help encourage more children to want to read and develop an enjoyment for reading. An email I received from one of my readers stated that my novel was the first book he had read in its entirety. This is great feedback for me, knowing that I have helped a child who at one time disliked reading to start developing an enjoyment for this wonderful pastime.
Tyler: Helen, to what do you attribute this decline in literacy and enjoyment in reading among children? What do you think can be done to change this downward trend?
Helen: Reading to children from a very early age is very important. I remember when I was as young as two, my mother would read stories to me every night before going to bed. I could see the enjoyment she had for reading and throughout the years, this has been a big influence in my life and fuelled the reading desire in me. So, I think that the more time spent with children reading and exposing them to the rich diversity of wonderful adventures and fantasies in so many classic books will help them develop a love for reading and this will lead to an improvement in their literacy skills.
Tyler: Helen, what were those adventure novels you read as a child? Which books or authors would you say were influences on your own writing?
Helen: I have so many favorite novels which I have listed on my website, but these are my all-time favourite novels I enjoyed reading (and still enjoy reading):
“A Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne, “The Time Machine” by HG Wells, “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann Wyss, “Watership Down” by Richard Adams, “Charlotte’s Web” by EB White, “Tom’s Midnight Garden” by Philippa Pearce, and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
I love the rich imaginations of both Jules Verne and HG Wells. Their novels as well as my interest in archaeology and history have influenced my writing.
Tyler: Helen, would you say there is a theme to “The Azura Stones” or some meaning you hope your readers will come away with?
Helen: There are a number of main themes that I have developed throughout the novel.
One of the main themes in my novel is friendship—how to treat your friends and what it means to show loyalty to your friends. Hayley is the best friend you would like to have. Throughout the novel, the reader is exposed to the interactions between Hayley and her two friends, Alex and Spence, and the difficulties they find themselves in during their dangerous adventure. Hayley helps keep the friendship together, and at times when her friends are finding it difficult to cope with one another’s weaknesses, she helps Alex and Spence to understand what it really means to be a true friend.
Another main theme is choice and consequence. The situations the children find themselves in significantly tests their friendship with one another. When faced with difficult situations, they are forced to make choices that eventually lead to consequences, either good or bad. Apart from affecting their friendship, their decisions ultimately place their lives in danger. There is some self-reflection throughout the novel between the children as they contemplate the decisions they have made and the effects of these decisions on one other and others around them. I hope that readers will come away with the concept that it is important to think about the consequences before making decisions.
Tyler: Did you always want to be a writer of children’s books?
Helen: I have always loved writing, though first and foremost, I always wanted to work in an occupation where I could help children to excel in their learning, to excel in life and to better themselves as individuals, thus the reason I became a teacher. As an English teacher, I began writing short stories and using these in the classroom to teach not only literacy skills but also life skills. My students really enjoyed the stories I read to them, so I decided to write a full-length novel. The entire process, from writing the manuscript through to the final product, was a wonderful experience and I’m looking forward to continuing in my writing career.
Tyler: Do you have plans to write any more books?
Helen: I am currently working on a sequel to “The Azura Stones” which should be in the stores sometime next year. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Helen. Before we go, will you tell us a little bit about your website (www.helenbailie.com) and what additional information can be found there about “The Azura Stones”?
Helen: I have included an overview of my novel and an extract of one of the chapters. I have also included reviews and other feedback I have received from parents, teachers and children.
Readers can visit the “Frequently Asked Questions” section to learn some information about my background and gain some tips on writing. Also, readers who purchase my novel direct from my website through the Publishers Direct Bookstore have an opportunity to enter a wonderful competition with great prizes to be won. Read all the details on my website!
Because of the interest I have received from many teachers, I have also created some English resources to accompany my novel that I am making available for use in the classroom. Teachers can email me directly for more information.