Book series fills void for young readers

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Familiar settings > Los Alamos native, author Phil Rink gives readers simple, easy-to-read stories

By Gina Velasquez

In the age of technology, Kindle and social media, the traditional book has started to fall by the waste side. Scholastic book fairs and other programs to draw in younger readers have also dwindled over the years, but there is still hope.
Los Alamos native Phil Rink is fighting to keep school-age children reading – especially boys.
“Some kids are bored with some of the books they are given to read,” Rink said. “Boys will read if you give them something to read.” Rink is a 1978 graduate of Los Alamos High School.
Rink has written a collection of short books surrounding the lives of two boys – Jimi and Issac.
Jimi and Isaac Books use a new approach to storytelling, but the books will feel familiar to older readers.
“Our books are full of short sentences, short pages, short chapters and really big ideas,” Rink said. “These were once called ‘Boy’s Books,’ but the industry is now allergic to that category.”
The main characters are Jimi, named after Jimi Hendrix and Isaac, named after Isaac Newton.
Rink uses familiar setting and characters to tell simple stories that are easy to read. There are no specific descriptions in the books, but rather a projection of characters feelings, not focusing on what they look like. Rink said he would rather deal with people as individuals.
The stories follow the boys through middle school to right before they enter high school.
“We give our readers a comfortable place to stand while they create themselves and find their place in the world,” Rink said. “Our books read quickly and are about stuff. We meet the kids where they are, then teach and provoke to make them interested and curious. We work hard to be bold.”
The basic “lesson” of each story is “finding the right thing to do,” Rink said.
The fifth book in the series was recently awarded the Kirkus Award. That particular book is focused around someone close to Isaac suffering a traumatic brain injury.
“Jimi & Isaac 1a: School Soccer” is dedicated to Louie Cernicek, a high school soccer coach at LAHS. “We won state my senior year, largely because he had everyone practice penalty kicks in the week before the tournament,” Rink said. “Our biggest game was decided by a shoot-out. Mr. C deserves several books. He was an amazing guy.”
So far there are five Jimi & Isaac Books. “School Soccer” starts with the early days of middle school and deals with the nature of competition. The second book, “Keystone Species” takes the boys on a bizarre trip to the open ocean to save something or other. The third is “Mars Mission” and fourth “Solar Power” deal with science and inventing and engineering and business.
The fifth book, “The Brain Injury” confronts uncertainty and disaster head-on: Isaac can’t get what he wants. That’s never happened to Isaac before. It is that book that won the Kirkus Award.
Every year the influential literary review company Kirkus singles out a tiny fraction of the books that they review for the prestigious “Best Books” designation.
“Kirkus Reviews is a big deal,” Rink said. “We’re very pleased that they selected Jimi & Isaac 5a: The Brain Injury for their list of the “Best Books of 2015.”
In the story, Isaac watches the doctors and nurses closely to learn how to care for his father after his accident. Isaac feels like it is his responsibility. The story reflects all the uncertainty of the future and reality is brutal. “Isaac is OK with it, at least for now,” Rink said.
The books are written simply so that school-aged child can relate. The topics, however, may be too intense for younger readers. Rink collaborated with many doctors for the book on brain injury.
The point of the stories is to provoke readers and recognize life always has questions. The books can apply tools to be successful. “Think and do and always pay attention,” Rink said. “That way you can always find a way to deal and solve problems.
Rink and his wife, who does marketing for the books have been trying very hard to get into Scholastic Book Fairs, which is supposedly where most kids buy books. In the meantime, any bookstore can order the books from their standard distributors, or people can buy the books directly from Amazon. “We beg all our readers to please leave reviews. They are crucial to us,” Rink said.
“The Best Books award is especially important for independently published books like ours,” Rink said. “We’re in over 200 libraries throughout the United States, but many libraries and most bookstores won’t even consider carrying Jimi & Isaac Books or other ‘indie’ books. We rely heavily on word-of-mouth and referral, so recognition by an industry leader like Kirkus means a lot.”
The Kirkus review can be found at kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/phil-rink/jimi-isaac-5a-brain-injury/.
Rink wanted a water ski when he was 15 years old, so he bought a mahogany plank and built one. Later, at his first engineering job, dissatisfied with the performance of a water treatment cell, He built several prototypes in his garage. His innovations were patented and eventually became the basis for an entire water sanitation industry. Rink’s ability to build and think, led to a successful problem-solving career and 11 patents, so far.
The whole book series idea came when he and his family couldn’t find substantial books about inventing and science for kids, and especially boys. Even though he drew on his own ongoing adolescence and extensive coaching experience, writing and bringing the books to market turned out to be more challenging than building his engineering career.
“I’m much more interested in helping kids see that science and art and shop and sports and music are all worthwhile. Once they realize that, the kids will mix according to their interests. Much more productive,” Rink said. “I’ll write more books,” Phil Rink said. “But we need to figure out how to get books to kids. Ultimately, we need to get into Scholastic Book fairs.”
Over time, Phil has become more convinced of the need for relevant, updated stories to help boys find their place in the world. Classic myth and modern fantasy are useful to discuss values, but they don’t clearly relate to the practical issues of growing up in a quickly changing world where boys may not follow their father’s career, play their father’s sport, or readily apply their father’s life lessons (if they even have a father or father figure). The goal of these books is to help boys understand and accommodate accelerating change, but also give them a stable place to stand while they write the stories of their own lives.
Rink is a mechanical engineer, inventor, entrepreneur, and science and soccer coach. In addition to the Jimi & Isaac Books, he’s published a book on sailing the Caribbean, several magazine articles, and a few professional papers. He lives with his family on Camano Island, Washington.
Rink worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for many years and Rink’s wife, Nancy was a mechanical engineer working for Boeing. The couple have two children and one grandchild.
Read more about the author at amazon.com/author/philrink.
Jimi & Isaac Books are available at jimiandisaacbooks.com, many libraries nationwide (including as e-books), and at Amazon.com.
The Kirkus Prize is one of the richest literary awards in the world, with a prize of $50,000 bestowed annually to authors of fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature. It was created to celebrate the 81 years of discerning, thoughtful criticism Kirkus Reviews has contributed to both the publishing industry and readers at large.
The Prize has three categories: the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature. Both traditionally published and self-published books reviewed by Kirkus that earn the Star are eligible. Eligibility for self-published books is determined by the date of the online publication of Kirkus’ review, not the books’ publication dates, since self-published books are sometimes submitted for review to Kirkus after publication.
Each of the three categories is composed of three highly regarded judges: a writer, a bookseller or librarian and a Kirkus critic. The judges are chosen for their intellectual curiosity, sense of fairness and wide knowledge of literary excellence across the various genres within the category of books they’re judging. Judges will confer among themselves to choose the six finalists in their categories (finalists are announced on Sept. 30), and will then meet in person to choose the winners before the announcement on Oct. 15. In the Young Readers’ Literature category, the finalists will include two picture books, two middle-grade books and two teen books.