If the new middle-grade novel, The Explorer, feels like a product of another era, maybe that makes sense, because its author Katherine Rundell could be from another era as well. Despite her fairly young age, Rundell has four novels under her belt, writes screenplays and plays, not to mention proficiency at walking a tightrope, has experience as a bush pilot, and is a fellow at All Soul’s College, Oxford.
Set in the Amazon nearly a hundred years ago, The Explorer tells the story of four children whose plane has crashed, and who teach themselves survival skills in the rainforest before they encounter a mysterious man they call "The Explorer," of course.
For Rundell, the inspiration behind her latest novel stemmed from a desire to write something daring, filled with adventure and bravery. But she also wanted to write a story filled with the beauty of the Amazon - a place she has personally visited.
"I think one hundred years ago, when there was still so much to find out about, I would have been very tempted to become an actual real-life adventurer. But these days, with the internet and Google maps, I think maybe the way forward is to write books that offer to children the chance to see something clearly that they might not otherwise be able to see," explains Rundell.
Rundell intentionally made the time period in which The Explorer is set vague, because "I wanted it to be open so that people could clothe it in whatever period that interests them most vividly," she says.
With several books under her belt, Rundell is still trying to work on the perfect formula to create a book filled with such excitement - you practically can't stand to read it.
"There are so many different ways you can read. There's the book that you read in two or three sittings so hungrily, and then there's the book that almost gets too exciting and you have to flip to the end to find out what happens," she says. "And there are certain models that I am dying to replicate myself, and I don't think I've got there yet but I'm working on it. I'm working on creating a book whereby you almost can't read it because it's so exciting."
Bringing that excitement to young readers through vague timelines or through identifying with characters their own age is important to Rundell. However, she says it is also important to educate children on the consequences of adventure. That is why she included the darker and more harmful side of exploration along with the excitement.
"I want to be really clear in the book that that kind of exploration had a darker side and it was not always generous," she notes. "And sometimes it was entirely disastrous for the indigenous people and I want to make really clear that that was not the kind of exploring that we should valorize, but that there might be something we can find by where we tread lightly on the world but still go to find out its secrets."
Rundell also hopes this book will spark an interest in conversation for children, particularly when it comes to saving the Amazon rainforests. "I want kids to read this book and think, 'What can we do?'...Because once they're gone, they won't come back," she says.