If you’re a fan of GameLit and you have kids, odds are you, you’ve heard of the delightful children’s series, The Accidental Minecraft Family by PixelAte. Fun for the whole family, the first four books of the series are available on Audible, with literally dozens more available as ebooks. To celebrate Children’s Authors & Illustrators Week this week, we sat down with the genius minds behind PixelAte, to learn what inspired them, what’s next for them, and more. In addition to our regular Q&A, we asked PixelAte to tell us their origin story in their own words for an extra-special spotlight. Without further ado…
The year was 2020… and we bet you can tell where that’s going. Dad went to work every morning, half the kids spent their days in school, and Mom stayed home with the other half, entertaining toddlers and feeding the baby, while driving everyone everywhere to everything.
And then the world shut down.
Dad was in restaurant sales and lost his job the same day Washington State called for closure of all restaurants. The kids’ school shut down for “only” two weeks, then six weeks, then never reopened that year. So we just sat around our too-small-for-seven-people house, looking at each other. There was nowhere to go, no one to see, and nothing to do. After a few days of the kids staring mindlessly at the stupid television, Mom had had enough.
Up until that point, we hadn’t played Minecraft. We knew the kids could play with their friends, though, and thought it would be a fun way to connect while everyone was quarantining. So, the resident IT guy — Dad — got everyone all set up, and in that moment, we created a houseful of Minecraft addicts.
We fought over playing survival or creative, had tons and tons of building challenges, explored the nooks and crannies of our favorite seeds, fought endless mobs, learned the importance of wearing gold in the nether, and on and on and on.
Dad was finishing up writing his PrimeVerse series, which had been a bucket list item for him. As he wrote one day, while the kids built farms and battled skeletons, he turned to Mom and said, “We should write a GameLit series in Minecraft.”
You see, our oldest son, who was eight at the time, haaaated reading. Not like, didn’t like reading. He hated it. It was the worst thing ever. He didn’t get any pleasure from books, nor feelings from the stories. Nothing we could find for him to read resonated with him. He would’ve rather done chores than open a book. He would read for his mandatory twenty minutes a day then slam the book shut to do something — anything — else.
So, with nothing but time on our hands, we sat down with our two oldest kids and started brainstorming the book he’d want to read. They helped us create the characters and develop the plot. We had so much fun just outlining the series, that he couldn’t wait to read the book. And a few months after the world shut down, when we presented to him the very first The Accidental Minecraft Family book (fun fact: our original title was The Blockheads) our son who hated reading couldn’t put it down. He finished it in one sitting and begged us to write the next one. So, we did. And then another. And another.
We ended up moving across the state and when we were finally settled, we published the first few books on Amazon. Without any advertising besides word of mouth and a few Facebook posts, they took off. Kids found themselves enamored with this goofy family and their stinky cat stuck, in a world they already knew and loved.
And like they say, the rest is history.
Because of our son and the challenges we’d faced getting him to read, we wrote the books with reluctant readers in mind, keeping sentences simple with only the occasional challenging word, giving paragraphs extra spaces, making the parents overly cheesy and fun, and, of course, a super naughty, super stinky pet cat (who is also a ninja). We wanted to write a book parents could use as “that first book.” You know the one. The one that gets you into reading.
So, to you, the reader — Here’s the deal: some kids seem to love reading and others just don’t. But the secret is, everyone can love reading. It’s true. All it takes is finding the right book.
We hope it’s these books. But more than that, we hope whatever it is, you find it. Because reading is the best way to explore other worlds, stand in other’s shoes, and learn about things you would otherwise never get to experience.
Keep reading until you find your book. And then never stop.
What inspired you to write GameLit for kids, and how did you decide to use Minecraft as your setting?
Mr. Pixel Ate LOVES GameLit. He reads about 80 books a year in the genre. Minecraft was our family’s newest obsession at the time (and that hasn’t changed), and it only made sense to combine his love of GameLit with our kids’ love of Minecraft, into books kids couldn’t stop reading!
How do you find kids interact with GameLit vs. other genres?
We have found the kids to be extremely interactive! In the series, the family finds a Codex of Seeds, which is a book that tells the stories of other outsiders (people not from Minecraft) inside the world of Minecraft, and the readers send us their own stories to put into the Codex of characters and worlds they create. We’ve easily received hundreds of these different Codex story submissions from fans. It has been the neatest experience to see Minecraft through their eyes and imaginations. A group of around eight kids from all over the world even joined together and wrote a 50,000-word (that’s 2-3 times the size of one of our books!) fanfiction in The Accidental Minecraft Family world. How cool is that? They always love to give us ideas or fanart and help us come up with mobs and stories. It is so awesome to have so much interaction from readers (and, if we may say so, kid fans are WAY cooler than adult fans).
What would you say to parents who are concerned that video games might negatively impact their children’s development?
Our personal opinion is that video games are an active engagement tool that ignites the imagination versus a passive activity, like watching TV shows that do all the thinking for you. We also believe in hands-on parenting, and if there are things in video games you don’t agree with, we see it as a wonderful opportunity to open a discussion. That being said, we are careful about allowing our kids to interact online with strangers in any significant capacity. Should video games be the only thing a kid does 100% of the time? Absolutely not. But to think they weigh heavier on their development than your relationship with your child or time spent with their friends is giving video games all too much responsibility. Talk with your kids! Connect with them! Listen to their thoughts and feelings. Negative impacts can become positive impacts with heartfelt discussion.
What are the themes you write about in your fiction, and what about these themes appeal to you?
We love positive themes! We adults talk about childhood like it was ‘living the life,’ but being a kid can be hard. We love to throw in themes of kindness, wholesome family interactions, and a general, overall ‘be a good person’ morality. The world has plenty of darkness, we like to show the light. Mom (the mother character in the books) is very adamant about trying nonviolent solutions first. They often don’t work, and lots of epic battles follow, but it is something that is brought up over and over. We like kids to see that being kind, generous, friendly, and loving is also super fun and adventurous.
What are your top five favorite books (by other authors)?
Oh man. That is a hard question. Our family is made up of avid readers, so we’ll give you a taste of all our favorites. Mr. and Mrs. Pixel Ate are both huge DCC fans. Our oldest daughter (12) is the biggest Percy Jackson nerd you’ll ever meet. Our oldest son (11) is currently obsessed with The Devine Apostacy series and Dodge Tank. Not to toot our own horns, but our two little girls (8 and 5) only want to read our books. And our youngest son (3) is incredibly partial to Five Little Pumpkins.
What genres do you enjoy outside of GameLit?
Mr. Pixel Ate doesn’t. But if he does, it’s Brandon Sanderson. Mrs. Pixel Ate loves books in all genres, and mostly reads women’s fiction.
What is one thing you wish you saw more of in the GameLit and sci-fi genres?
Female protagonists! In our newer series, Hatchamob, we used an 11-year-old girl as the main character and were a little nervous how the male readers would relate, but it’s been a raging success, and everyone seems to love it. We would also love to see more superhero books, but they never seem to do well in the genre.
How do you find the experience of listening to an audiobook differs from the experience of reading a book?
It feels so much more immersive! Especially a full production audio with multiple narrators and the little sound effects you don’t necessarily hear in your head when reading but would absolutely be taking place. A creek of a door, a bawk of a chicken, a hiss of a creeper… It makes it all that more real. Plus, you can listen while doing other things so it’s extra productive, and no one can yell at you for not getting your chores done.
What’s next for Pixel Ate?
More books! We have three series running currently. The Accidental Minecraft Family finally concluded its first arc (in Book 30!) and has pivoted to a search-and-rescue style where the family helps save others stuck in the game! It’s been really fun. We also have Hatchamob, a Pokémon-style / Minecraft mashup with super awesome mob collecting and battling, all in the familiar world of Minecraft. And our newest, and only non-Minecraft series, Video Game Agents, about a set of twins who are recruited to a secret video game agency that fights incursions of video game baddies while trying to solve the mystery of their missing mother.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Just that we feel so incredibly blessed to get to do what we love and call it work. COVID was such a hard time on so many people, and we had our own struggles during that time. But there is always a silver lining, and for us it was AMF. We likely never would have written it had the world not shut down, had Mr. Pixel Ate not lost his job immediately, and had the kids not been home from school. It gave us the motive and the time we needed to get started, and it’s been the best, most wild ride ever since. Look for the silver linings! They’re not always easy to find, but they’re always there.