Five questions for Maxwell Eaton III

Scout, the protagonist of Maxwell Eaton’s new graphic-novel series Survival Scout, may be fictional, but when she gets lost on a hike (and her adult brother gets chased away by a bear) in series debut Lost in the Mountains (Roaring Brook, 7–10 years), the wilderness safety advice she offers is real. 

1. There’s a humorous and instructive “don’t panic!” tone to the story. How did you hit on that mix? 

Maxwell Eaton III: It’s the same tone I attempt when I’m out adventuring in the woods and on the water. Trips break down or turn into slogs in a hurry, but the combination of a clear head and a sense of humor will get you home. They’re both rooted in the ability to take a step back and assess a situation, whether it’s to figure out the best course of action or just to appreciate the ridiculousness of the bind you’re in! 

2. Was it always a blend of fiction and information? 

ME: The two have become a knot I can’t untie. All of my fiction seems to get hung up on the details and the how-tos, and all of my nonfiction is full of snacky talking skunks. I also think a little bit of fiction can enhance nonfiction, because it allows for the creation of characters who are there to learn with the reader. When there are concepts that are difficult to wrap one’s head around, the reader has permission to be confused or puzzled, because the characters in the book might express the same feeling. It makes it okay to move past the confusion with a joke and not get discouraged, not close the book. Then maybe our reader can wade in a little further on the next go-around. 

3. Are you more like Scout or her brother? 

ME: I strive to be like Scout, and I fight the tendencies to turn into her adult brother. Though what I do love about the brother is that while he’s wildly irresponsible and completely clueless, it doesn’t seem to come from a negative place. He’s just a happy-go-lucky person living in his own little bubble that probably doesn’t include wherever his keys are. 

4. Have you ever had to test your survival skills? 

ME: A thousand self-inflicted could-have-gone-wrongs, but nothing I’d like my parents to read about. Disasters in the mountains can happen quickly, but sometimes the worst ones are nothing more than a series of small but compounding mistakes. Put your foot through a frozen brook while snowshoeing and see how it plays out, decision by decision, as the good or bad choices pile up. It’s these choices that can suddenly lead to the survival situation. But it’s the course corrections — the little taps and bumps that keep things on track — that I’m interested in, and that Scout pulls off so well. 

5. Any favorite hikes, parks, or camping spots to recommend? 

ME: You’ll have to join me to see the good spots in the Adirondack Mountains, where I live. But I also feel at home in the deserts. The Sonoran. The Chihuahuan. The Big Bend region always takes my breath away, because it’s not on the human scale. Maybe the perfect place for Scout’s next sibling-caused misadventure.

From the August 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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