Lisa Samson is not in the stratosphere of J.K. Rowling — yet.
But the Lexington-based children's author, who writes under the name L.L. Samson, is in the midst of writing a wonderfully arch yet educational series, The Enchanted Attic, based on what might happen if some of literature's greatest characters wandered into modern times.
In the process, she is sending a message to young readers and their parents: The classics get that designation for a reason. And when you pause to consider the characters and themes at their most basic, you learn quite a lot.
In the latest book in The Enchanted Attic series, Saving Moby Dick, Ahab trades his whalebone leg for a comfortable prosthetic and garners a few lessons in Internet etiquette. Young readers learn a bunch of new words, the definitions of which are delivered gently and with humor.
Ahab also learns a lesson about the destructive power of obsession.
Like Lemony Snicket — real name: Daniel Handler — and his A Series of Unfortunate Events, Samson is an author who can be appreciated by adults as well as young readers. Translation: If you're reading aloud to your children, you'll get a sophisticated level of humor they might not. Reading Samson is a multilevel experience.
Chapter 11, for example, is titled "Even Mad Sea Captains Enjoy Some Quiet Reading Time, So What's Your Excuse?"
For the uninitiated, this is as good an explanation of the plot of Moby-Dick which comes from Saving Moby Dick: "In other words, Moby Dick (who is a white whale) bit off Captain Ahab's leg, and now the old man wants revenge. Badly. Imagine that you need to stop at a rest area, but the next exit is 100 miles away. You simply have to get there. You have to do whatever is necessary. That's how strong Captain Ahab's sense of revenge is, how powerful, enabling him to think of little else."
The first book in The Enchanted Attic series was Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Next up is a take on The Three Musketeers, featuring a Milady who discovers that in these times there's a way to get what she wants that doesn't involve duplicitous plots forced on her by a lack of options. A reworking of Dracula might come after that.
While The Enchanted Attic books are being published by Zonderkidz, a division of the religious-oriented publisher Zondervan, they do not have explicit religious themes. Samson has written more than 25 books, including Quaker Summer, which was named Christianity Today's novel of 2008; Publisher's Weekly called Samson "one of the most powerful voices in Christian fiction."
Samson, 48, is married and has three children. Growing up, "I did not have a very good literary education," she said. She remembers reading George Eliot's Silas Marner and William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. She first read Moby-Dick at 47.
"I missed a lot of the classics," she said, so she decided to help students approach the classic titles in a different way. "I just wanted kids to have a really good emotional experience with the characters."
In addition to writing books, Samson is a painter and works with a company called Bamboozle Artscapes, which creates bamboo art pieces for stores and events. She has an Etsy.com store where she sells her paintings. She is also the former owner of Cuppa, a tea café that she credits with helping her springboard into new art and writing projects.
Although she likes the mental gymnastics of writing, Samson enjoys the physical aspect of painting and working with bamboo art. "It's fun because it's physical labor. I sat at a computer for so many years, it's good to use my full body."
Samson writes for kids in an approachable, easy-to-follow manner. That means there are a lot of parentheses and pauses to explain highfalutin concepts and words in an unassuming, often funny, manner.
"I try to put the definitions ... in ways they can emotionally latch onto," Samson said.
And, in Saving Moby Dick, there is the crazed captain, his crew with the elaborate back stories, the roiling sea and the great whale himself.
"Of course it has its fantasy elements to it," she said of the series. "They're regular kids. They have their quirks, but they don't have magic powers. ... They don't thirst for blood."