Laurie Keller is the inspired author behind our top-selling The Scrambled States of America Game and our Scrambled States of America Puzzle, both based on her popular book by the same name. In honor of our new deluxe 10th anniversary edition of the game, we caught up with Laurie to learn how the idea came to be and what new features we might find!
You wrote and did all the illustrations for your first book The Scrambled States of America. How did you come up with such a fun and silly idea?
I became interested in children’s books after spending a lot of time in The Reading Reptile, a great children’s book store in Kansas City. I knew that I wanted to try to write and illustrate my own one day but I hadn’t thought of any ideas. Then one night I was falling asleep and some little states with faces, arms and legs popped into my head! I have no idea why but I remembered that the next morning and thought it might make a good idea for a book to use the states as characters to help kids learn about U.S. geography. Once I sat down to write I looked at a map and tried to imagine what each state might be like if it had a personality and I kept focusing on Kansas. I noticed that he was right in the middle of the country and I thought that maybe he just might be sick of being “stuck” there, so that’s what I based my story on. Some people ask me, since I was living in Kansas City, Missouri (Kansas’ neighbor) if I based that storyline on my own experiences — but I didn’t. It would have been a good story to tell though!
How did you decide to turn your book into a game?
It had never occurred to me to turn The Scrambled States of America into a game but Gamewright contacted my publisher, Henry Holt, and said that they were interested in doing so. They asked me if I had any ideas for a possible game and unfortunately I didn’t. So they came up with the entire concept themselves and I was blown away! They made it fast-paced and fun and even added more educational elements than were in the book. I’ve heard from so many parents and kids telling me how much they enjoy the game and it’s nice to see that it’s a game that families can play together.
It has been 10 years since the first edition of The Scrambled States of America Game has been released – what success have you seen over those years?
I’ve been very fortunate to be able to make a living making books so to me that’s my greatest success. Some of my books have been turned in to short animations by Weston Woods/Scholastic and that’s been fun to see as it’s a dream of mine to create a TV show or movie. I’ve done a lot of school visits around the country and last year was invited to Moscow, Russia to speak at The Anglo-American School of Moscow — that was very exciting! And this summer another of my books, Arnie the Doughnut is going to be a musical in the New York Musical Theater Festival.
In the new Deluxe Anniversary Edition of the game, what new challenges can players find?
There are some new Scramble Cards and I did new art work for the state cards and the cover of the game. And there’s even a paperback version of the book inside!
What other books have you published since? Do you have any more in the works?
I made a sequel to The Scrambled States of America, called The Scrambled States of America Talent Show. I’m planning on doing at least one more book about the states. I also made Open Wide: Tooth School Inside (about a mouth full of teeth who learn how to take care of themselves in Tooth School); Arnie the Doughnut (he’s a chocolate-covered sprinkle doughnut who doesn’t know that doughnuts are made to be eaten and thinks he’s going home with Mr. Bing to be his roommate!); Grandpa Gazillion’s Number Yard (Grandpa shows you how to use numbers for other things besides counting; Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners (a rabbit gets 3 new neighbors who are otters and he has to learn how to get along with them); Birdy’s Smile Book (Birdy talks all about why smiling is so important). And right now I’m finishing up my first chapter book about Arnie the Doughnut (obviously Arnie doesn’t get eaten in the picture book or I wouldn’t be able to do the sequel!).
Do you have any advice to aspiring children’s book authors and illustrators, or those hoping to turn a story into a game?
I don’t really, since it’s not an area I know much about. Maybe just focus on developing fun, likeable characters. Zany, energetic stories with a dilemma that needs to be resolved seem to translate well and if there’s a way to include something “educational” that’s always a bonus!
One lucky reader can win a copy of the new Scrambled States of America Game – Deluxe Edition autographed by Laurie Keller! To enter, let us know your favorite state in the comments! A winner will be chosen at random. Please enter by midnight EST on Monday, June 25th.