Interview With Jude Watson About Her New 39 Clues Book “A King’s Ransom” and a Review of the Book

Today is the release date of “A King’s Ransom” Book 2 of the Cahill vs. Vespers series of the 39 Clues by Jude Watson! Hurray!! I asked Ms. Watson if I could do an interview with her, and she was kind enough to say “Yes” and answer my pesky polite questions. I met Ms. Watson at Harleysville Books at a book signing for “Vespers Rising”. She was super nice! See my post HERE. A BIG thank you to the people at Scholastic that made this interview possible!

Behold, the book review and interview:


Cahills vs. Vespers Book 2 “A King’s Ransom”

By Jude Watson

192 pages – ages 8+

Published by Scholastic Press December 6, 2011

Amy and Dan are wanted by the international police, killers are after them, seven members of their family are kidnapped, they have no idea who is giving them secret orders to steal things (other than his/her name is Vesper one), and they have to get from Florence Italy to Lucerne Switzerland without getting caught…did I mention they have to steal a priceless historical map of the world that no one had seen for years? Dan and Amy are once again on an impossible mission only this time their family’s lives depend on them!

This book was AWESOME! Get it. Read it. 

Review done…

OK not really, but the above is true! Like all of Jude Watson’s 39 Clues books before, this book is action packed (Ms. Watson wrote Beyond the Grave (Book 4), In Too Deep (Book 6) and part of Vespers Rising (Book 11) of the original 39 Clues series)!  Ms. Watson takes Amy and Dan all across Europe on a dangerous treasure hunt. I like how Ms. Watson brings out the silliness in Dan, how she makes Amy strong and how Dan finally gets to do some “research” better than Amy! My favorite part of the book was when Dan and Amy had to go to a fancy art auction and try to “fit” in, even though they are wanted in another country for art theft. The plot twist at the end of the book will blow you Cahill fan’s minds!  

If you aren’t familiar with the 39 Clues you really should check out the website HERE! All the books have clues hidden in them and there are collecting cards where you can gather clues and unlock parts of the story! The books themselves are the most awesome adventure that takes Dan and Amy all over the world! You can see my review of the first series HERE.

I give “A King’s Ransom” five out of five book worms!



 The whole idea of The 39 Clues is really neat. Seven different authors (including you) wrote the 11 books in the first series and there are 6 different authors writing the new “Cahills Vs. Vespers” series. Each book takes off where the last author let the story. How much freedom do you have when you’re writing the story? Can you pretty much do what you want?

Thanks to our amazing Scholastic editors, we are free to go wherever our imaginations take us—as long as it doesn’t absolutely contradict something that came before.  We know the arc of the whole story, but there’s plenty of room to make changes.   If we come up with an idea, first we run it by our editors, and if they give the okay, we take off. That’s the fun of these books— we all get to play in this amazing sandbox and build our owncreations… yet they all connect.

 What is one of your favorite things another author did to the plot in the first series?

All the authors keep me at the top of my game.I can point to a bunch of stuff that the other authors did that made me rock back on my heels and say “Cool!” (see: Ecureuil A Star helicopter, Korman, Gordon) but the first thing that comes to mind is how Rick, Gordon, and Peter set up the characters for me in the first three books. I’m indebted to their smarts. Dan was so funny. Amy was so smart and so touching. One book after another dropped into my mailbox and each one made me so happy to be a part of the series—but nervous at the same time. 

You’ve written a lot of Star Wars books (and I am a huge fan of them too) and I have noticed that in your books of the 39 Clues series (“Beyond the Grave” Book4, “In Too Deep” Book 6, “Vespers Rising” Book11 and now “A Kings Ransom” Book 2 of the Cahills vs. Vespers series) and your Star Wars books have tons of action in them. Are action/adventure books your favorite to write?

I do love action-adventure, but I’d say what makes it a favorite of mine is not so much the action itself but what happens to the characters stepping forth to meet it.  My Jedi books are, to me, really about mentoring—what it’s like to have someone in your life who you can depend on to guide you, and the ups and downs of that relationship. 

It’sabout finding your place in the world, or the galaxy in this case, and accepting a life of service. Throw in some lightsaber battles and planetary wars, and you’ve got some fun action while characters struggle with real issues.  It’s really the same with the 39 Clues—it’s the story of two basically ordinary kids who get thrown into extraordinary circumstances.  How do they step up their game in order to handle it?  How does it change them?   I don’t think this story of the clue hunt would have resonated with readers if it hadn’t also been about the relationship between Amy and Dan and all those Cahill relatives.

 I really like the 39 Clues series not only for all the action in them but also because I learn a lot about other countries, customs, history and geography.  “AKing’s Ransom” is first set in Florence Italy (where Gordon Korman left them at the end of book 1 “The Medusa Plot”) and then moves to Lucerne Switzerland and to Prague (the Czech Republic). It is really cool how you describe the scenery and history in these places. How do you do research for these stories?

I love that about the series, too!  I’ve learned a lot from reading the other books.  And I’ve learned a lot from researching my own.  I use everything I can get my hands on, short of actually hopping a flight to the Czech Republic (though I wish I could do that too!)  The first thing I do is go to the library and check out some guidebooks and travel essays about the setting.   I get to know it through the eyes of someone who knows it well.   Then once I have the layout of the city or country in my head, as well as its landmarks, culture, food, transportation—I go on the web and just start googling.  I use Google maps and satellite views to really put myself there.  And YouTube has turned out to be an amazing resource! Tourists just turn on their video cameras and walk around, and you can hear them say things like “This is amazing” and “I’d really like a cup of coffee right now.”  But it allows you to see little things as well as big things—not only the famous astronomical clock in Old Town Square in Prague, for example, but the color of the sky, and the stones, and the babble of voices in different languages.   I might not use all those things specifically, but I do get a sense of actually being there.

I also try to find friends of mine who have been to the places I’m writing about. When I asked a friend about what was the most surprising thing about Cairo, for example, she said how hard it was to cross the street.  The traffic was too crazy.  She said their tour guide would just walk out into the street and raise his hand, and traffic would stop.  So I had Theo do that!

 I have to say, you have a habit of killing off characters that I’ve grown to like. When you are writing do you have a clear idea of what is going to happen in the story or does it just come out when you are writing the story and change as you are writing?

What a great question, Erik!  Of course, killing off characters that the reader likes is an honorable writer’s tradition!  Dickens was a master at it.

I’m going to give you a waffly answer here.  (I just looked that up, and it’s actually a word!)  Sometimes I know before I begin that a character is going to meet a terrible fate.  Sometimes it occurs to me when I’m either writing the outline or writing the book itself.  For example, I added back story to Irina in BEYOND THE GRAVE (she was my favorite Cahill villain), and when I started planning IN TOO DEEP, I felt that in terms of the plot and as well as delivering a punch to the readers that it would make sense for one of the villains to actually develop a conscience… and I chose Irina.  I wanted to push this as far as it would go, and that meant that Irina would actually sacrifice herself for Amy and Dan.

But if I did that, I thought we needed a new villain—someone scarier than Irina, more crafty than Alistair, nastier than Ian and Natalie… someone with no mercy.  Ta da—Isabel Kabra!

When I got the green light from the editors, I then really sat down and thought about Irina’s life.  She had a family life that was brief but treasured–a place where she loved and was loved.  That was taken away from her and it left its mark.  She finds that there is a place she just can’t go.  She can’t kill kids. When she sees that Isabel will go that far,she says “enough.”

By the way, Idon’t think my daughter has forgiven me yet.  I still remember the howl of “NOOOOOO!” when she got to that part in IN TOO DEEP.

As for A KING’S RANSOM, I knew going in that one of the characters wasn’t going to make it before I even started the book.  This is what upping the stakes is all about.  I had grown to really like this character, so that was hard to do.

The ending of A King’s Ransom was such a total cliff-hanger! You really set up an awesome plot twist for Peter Lerangis who is the author of Book 3 “The Dead of Night” to work with. I can’t wait until it comes out to see what he does with it! Sadly, we all have to wait until March 2012 for its release. Do you know what happens? Come on, you can tell me…and my readers…we won’t tell anyone else.

I think you already know the answer to this one.   We are told by our editors that we’ll be whipped with cold linguine and pelted with scrambled farmers eggs if we talk.  Sorry, Erik!  My lips are sealed.


Thank You Ms Watson!!

To learn more about Jude Watson and her books, please visit her website by clicking HERE.

Categories: Age 6-9, Age 9+, Erik's Favs

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. This was such a great interview. Thanks so much Erik and Jude! I confess I haven’t read the 39 Clues (guess I’ll have to now :)) and I’m interested that books for this age level include so much killing. I think it’s amazing that so many authors can write a series and have it hang together well. I love puzzles and treasure hunts, so the series sounds like fun. But what I found most interesting was how Jude researches her settings – such great ideas! I’d never thought of travel guides (duh!) or looking for tourist videos on YouTube. I’m sure I’ll end up using these tips for a book down the road 🙂

    • Thanks, Ms. Hill! Jude Watson is one of my favorite authors (1. I LOVE the 39 Clues!! 2. She writes AWESOME Star Wars books [and her 39 Clues books]!!)My Mom mostly reads books I get to make sure that they are OK for me. She read the books ahead of me, and said it was OK for me (actually, it was GREAT for me!). I’ll ask my Mom to comment saying why she thinks the series is appropriate for my age.

      • Hello Ms. Hill! I was informed by Erik, on the way to school today, that I was to leave my thoughts as to why I think this series is OK for Erik (RE killing and all) :). My husband and/or I do read the books Erik reviews unless it is obviously a “G” rated book. I did read the 39 Clues books ahead of Erik and yes in the 13 books written so far there have been 3 deaths. So Erik pointed out, after reading your comment, that I don’t let him read other series (like Alex Rider, Harry Potter (both of which I like)) that have death or violence in them, but why is 39 Clues OK? This is a great question! Thinking about it, death and being chased by “killers” are in so many tales of our childhood. The evil queen was after Snow White, Bambi’s mother gets shot, the Joker was always trying to off Batman, the Big Bad Wolf didn’t want to come in to have tea with the pigs and for goodness sake Cruella Deville wanted to skin puppies! So why is it in some cases death or being chased by killers OK in stories? Well in the 2 cases that I cited where I don’t let Erik read the books (Harry Potter and Alex Rider), these books take on dark and very emotionally troubling themes. I find that the 39 Clues books do not approach these emotional levels. In the case that Ms. Watson was talking about, Irina died because she was saving the children. It is an emotional experience to read about but I put it on the same level as the protagonist in “Old Yeller” having to shoot his own dog (and please don’t think I am equating human life to a dog’s life, I am just picking a reference in terms of what I find as an acceptable emotional experience for a youngster). One of the deaths in the 39 Clues Series (it was the book where they were in the Caribbean I think, Erik can correct me if I’m wrong) series did approach crossing the “line” for acceptable (one character drowns and Dan is trying to save him), and while I, as an adult, see that it was necessary for Dan’s character development in the story, I don’t think kids would “get it”. I decided that it didn’t go over that emotional line but also decided to read that section with Erik and talk about it with him. Now, I do know parents that let their 8 year olds read Harry Potter and take their 6 year olds to see the movies, but we don’t allow this, so I know that different parents have their thresholds. I hope I’ve clarified ours to you (even if you don’t agree with it). All -in -all the benefits of learning about different countries and cultures and the excitement of the “Clue” hunt is by far the predominant theme in the series. I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

      • Thanks, Mom! 🙂 Now that’s twice you used the word protagonist on my blog and I have no idea what that means! Where’s my dictionary?
        Your Loving Son,

  2. I so have to read these books this spring!!!

    I love Ms. Watson’s idea about “seeing” her setting on Youtube via vacationers. Too bad tourists can’t go back in time and get footage for my historical settings!

  3. Excellent review and interview with Jude. You hit a home run with this one! How lucky to interview her the day the book is released! You asked excellent questions and her answere were very detailed. Have not read this series, and was surprised with the killing. But, the treasure hunts and mysteries sound wonderful for kids. Great job. Thanks Erik and Jude!

  4. I enjoyed both the interview and the comments from Erik’s Mom. For now, I’m reading the picture books with my son, so it’s interesting to think about the “advanced reading” I’ll be doing before my son can read certain books. My sister does this too. Lots of fun parenting and reading ahead….

  5. Great interview! I am doing one with Mark Braught pretty soon. 😀

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: