This author is an alien

Inspired by Dr Suess, The Mushroom Planet series, Dr Doolittle, C S Lewis, Tolkien, myths, legends, science fiction and fantasy at a young age, American author Bruce Coville writes stories about futuristic gizmos -- quirky, fantastical and bizarre stories that are a favourite with children all over the world.

But not all his imaginary gadgets stay imaginary: he predicted the invention of smartphones and voice-recognition translators 20 years ago. In his My Teacher is an Alien series published in 1989, characters use a device called the URAT (Universal Reader and Translator), a powerful pocket computer that seems to belong to our world today. Nowadays, Coville writes about brain-zapping intelligence boosters and machine-based telepathy, which we may also see become reality in future. 

Coville’s The Unicorn Chronicles series, Rod Albright Alien Adventures, The Magic Shop series and other playfully-titled books show that the 69-year-old author has a child’s wide imagination, and an understanding of the way young minds work.  

Read also: The power of reading aloud, Sanghamitra Subba

Coville is in Kathmandu for the Bal Sahitya Mahotsav children’s book festival on Saturday at Rato Bangala School and will be doing readings from his books there and in other schools.

One day when Coville was six in cow country in upstate New York, his father, a travelling salesman, pulled out Victor Appleton’s Tom Swift in the City of Gold.

“It was a big, ugly book, and he put me on his lap and started reading aloud,” recalls Coville. “We read night after night and went on a journey together. In those times, for boys you almost needed permission from an adult male to read and I became a reader because of the model my father was.”


It was in Grade 6 that Coville realised he wanted to be a writer, among the multitude of other things that a child dreams of doing. His teacher encouraged him to do a long-term short-story project where he had the freedom to write whatever he wanted to, and the young Coville had produced an Aesop-esque version of Sheila Burnford’s Incredible Journey.

As an adult, Coville took many jobs as he got his start in writing. He has worked as a toymaker, cookware salesman, assembly line worker and even as a gravedigger, but the biggest influence on his work and approach to children has been his time as an elementary school teacher. (Although in The Ghost Wore Gray his gravedigging knowledge did come in handy.)

Now a best-selling author, Coville is also a performer who puts on storytelling concerts and performs plays, narrations, audiobook recordings and read-alouds.

“Reading aloud is a great passion of mine,” says Coville. “I read aloud to my children till they were 16 and now I read aloud to my two-year-old granddaughter every night.”

Reading to children has also helped him understand what children enjoy most. “I start my stories off in wacky ways because I want to get the gift of their attention,” explains Coville. “Only after they know I am on their side will they enjoy my books and continue to read them, even when I take years to complete a series.”

Fans of The Unicorn Chronicles were in elementary school when the first books came out in 1994. It was only hundreds of cranky fan mails and 16 years later that the final book in the series was published. Many of his fans, some of them in Nepal, are now in their late 30s.

After four decades and 105 books, however, Coville wants to do something different. His possible next project? Making children’s literature safe for farts -- an outlet for his fairly rowdy sense of humour and a homage to a bodily function children everywhere find hilarious.