Read an excerpt and see the cover of Basil and Kevin Sylvester's middle-grade novel, The Fabulous Zed Watson!
The Fabulous Zed Watson! will be available on Jan. 26, 2021
Basil Sylvester is a non-binary writer based in Toronto. Their father, Kevin Sylvester, is a broadcaster and the award-winning illustrator and writer of middle-grade books such as the Neil Flambé Capers series and the MiNRS space adventure series.
The duo co-wrote a middle-grade novel The Fabulous Zed Watson!, which is coming out on Jan. 26, 2021.
The Fabulous Zed Watson! is for ages 8 to 12. It features a non-binary lead character who embarks on "the literary scavenger hunt and road trip of a lifetime."
When lead character Zed discovers a mystery surrounding an unpublished novel called The Monster's Castle, they become a member of a small but dedicated legion devoted to finding the long-buried text. When a breakthrough discovery leads Zed to the route that they are sure will take them to the treasure, they embark on a road trip with their shy, flora-loving neighbour, Gabe, and his sister, Sam, a geologist who is driving back to college in Arizona.
The Fabulous Zed Watson! features illustrations by Kevin Sylvester, and an "Own Voice" perspective based on Basil Sylvester's experience.
"Basil and I had been working on book ideas together for a while, and the idea came from their imagination. Zed was already forming in Basil's head, I think, when my publisher asked us if we'd be interested in writing a story about a non-binary kid," said Kevin Sylvester in an email to CBC Books.
"It was a super weird coincidence, or maybe just serendipitous. I'd read Mason Deaver's I Wish You All the Best earlier that year and realized it was actually possible to write books with non-binary characters," added Basil Sylvester.
Kevin Sylvester is also a CBC Radio personality; he's been producing and hosting on the airwaves since 1989. As an author, he's written and illustrated everything from murder mysteries and science fiction to books on sports.
According to Basil, Kevin hit upon the story revolving around a road trip and the middle-grade novel evolved from there.
"The road trip thing was so genius. I just remember like, gasping and being like, 'Yes I want to write that!' And I just remember in the span of one conversation… we planned about 80 per cent of the book!" said Basil Sylvester.
You can see illustrations and read an excerpt from The Fabulous Zed Watson! below.
CHAPTER 3: CHEZ WATSON
I got home and hopped off my bike. The tips of my fingers were still tingling, and I was breathing hard, and not just from biking so fast.
I couldn't wait to tell everyone my discovery. I tossed my bike onto the porch and almost tore the screen door off its hinges.
"GUYS!" I yelled, but no one could hear me.
Let me explain.
I am loud.
But my "GUYS" was instantly swallowed up by the even louder cacophony of dinner prep, Chez Watson.
My family is big. Lots of siblings, lots of noise.
But as dinner approaches, the Watson family circle grows, and extends like The Blob.
It's because of my parents. They love to have people over, yes. But my mom and dad also believe that you don't turn away anyone in need. So we always have this crowd.
Kids, neighbors, neighbors' dogs…. You never knew who, or what, would show up for dinner on a given night.
On this given night it sounded like the circus was in town.
When I was a kid, I thought my family was just that big. When I turned ten, I found out that the guy I'd been calling "Uncle" Amir was in fact, not my uncle, just a longtime family friend.
It can be the most surreal experience. If you'd asked me yesterday, I probably would have said, "I wouldn't have it any other way." But today, it was hindering my mission.
In the dining room, to the right from the doorway, someone had set up a ping-pong table and a bunch of people I didn't recognize were shrieking and swinging their paddles wildly.
On the stairs, my sister June had set up a mattress toboggan run. The lineup was long.
So was the lineup for the bathroom.
Down the entrance hallway was the kitchen. I sniffed. Delicious smells were reaching my nose, but my quest was not the food.
Cooking usually meant at least one parent, and that was my best bet to announce my discovery.
I marched down the hallway, dodging ping pong balls, flying mattresses and for some reason, my brother Zach's bunny Mephistopheles, who was running free and skittering between everyone's legs.
"This house is awesome," I said.
My dad was in the kitchen, as it turned out. He was kneading his famous handmade pizza dough, and chatting with "uncle" Amir, who sat at the kitchen counter chopping mushrooms. His wife Andie was grating cheese, and they were all laughing about something.
Mom wasn't there. She was undoubtedly in her study working on serious lawyer things. She didn't like to be disturbed before dinner. Ha! How she avoided that in this house was a mystery to me.
"DAD, I HAVE NEWS!" I yelled again, just to be heard over their loud conversation.
"Indoor voice, Zed, and don't interrupt," said my dad.
"Oh brother," I rolled my eyes. "In this house that is my indoor voice."
He frowned at me and began chatting with uncle Amir again.
"But I have news!" I tried again.
Amir smiled at me.
"Zed, what did I just say? Be patient. I'm talking to someone else; wait your turn."
"But it's really important!"
"And you are being really impatient." He said.
"Oh, nice wordplay, Watson," said Amir.
He held up a finger. "Shh. Quiet please."
"IRONY UPON IRONY!" I threw my hands up in the air in frustration. "Where's mom?"
"You know the rules, Zed, no disturbing her."
"I won't be disturbing, I'll be…enlightening." Before he could protest, I darted out of the kitchen and up the stairs. It got quieter as I left the throng below.
My strategy had failed with Parent Number One. I had to try a different tack with Parent Number Two.
I knocked on her door, but she didn't answer, so I just walked in. I mean, it's not like the door was locked.
She was sitting at her desk, her forehead resting in one hand, eyes squinting at the screen as she scrolled through some confusing (probably booooring) legal document.
"Sorry, I'm busy," she said without looking up.
"MomIneedamap," I blurted.
She lifted her forehead from her palm and turned towards me.
"Zed, what on earth?" I probably did look a bit unhinged by this point, panting and not being able to stand still. I was flapping my hands at her. She blinked like she was trying to shake the fog of many "heretofore"s and "notwithstanding"s from her brain.
I figured I had about twenty seconds before she stopped being confused and started being annoyed. The perfect window of opportunity.
"Mother, I need a map of the United States... of America." I said it slowly and clearly, like I was talking to a spooked animal. You have to appear calm in these moments. Otherwise, a parent will sense your weakness and tell you to take a few breaths first, or to leave and come back when you're calmer.
By then it's too late.
I have learned this from experience.
"Your father has one in his bedside table drawer, I think," she said, already turning back to her work.
Success! Parental permission to enter their room.
"Thanks!" I smiled and sped away before she realized what she had done. She called after me, "Don't be late for dinner, though!"
No promises, I thought.
From The Fabulous Zed Watson! by Kevin Sylvester and Basil Sylvester ©2021. Published by HarperCollins Canada.