There’s a mysterious world hidden behind the Disney parks’ doors when the sun sets—one in which attractions are at rest and villains roam free. And on Friday, August 19, located in Stage 28 of the Anaheim Convention Center at the 2011 D23 Expo, D23 Members and Expo guests got the chance to hear from someone who has gone where few have gone before and seen what few others ever will—Ridley Pearson, the author of the best-selling Kingdom Keepers series.
Prior to the start of the presentation, D23 got a chance to speak with some of the guests about why they love the Kingdom Keepers books. Glendon Preece, an Expo attendee, has read the series and couldn’t wait to meet the author. “I like the behind-the-scenes stuff and the involvement of the villains,” he explained. “I’m hoping to hear about what’s next for the series.” Myrna Conn, an Expo guest and daughter of a D23 member, was equally excited about the presentation. “The Kingdom Keepers books are some of my favorites,” she said. “I’m a huge Disney fan and I love to read, to these books are perfect for me.”
At 11:30 a.m., Ridley took the stage to the delight of an eager and energetic audience to reveal some of his behind-the-scenes experiences at the Disney parks while researching for his Kingdom Keeper novels. The first book was released in 2006 and follows Finn, the leader of the Kingdom Keepers, and his friends as they move through the Disney parks after dark to protect them from a group known as the Overtakers. There are currently four titles in the Disney Hyperion series—Kingdom Keepers, Kingdom Keepers II—Disney at Dawn, Kingdom Keepers III—Disney in Shadow, and Kingdom Keepers IV—Power Play—with the promise of three additional books. In fact, Ridley announced that he just finished the fifth book of the series less than a week ago.
In his one-hour panel, Ridley shared his inspiration for the books, information about the extensive research he’s done, and some anecdotes from the past few years. “It was eye-opening for me and a ton of fun, as you can imagine,” he said about his private tours through the parks. “What I was struck by the most in these attractions was the sense of story in each attraction… there is a beginning, a middle, an end to each piece.” Though a well-known crime writer, Ridley took on the challenge, extended by Disney Publishing editorial director Wendy Lefkon, to write a series for young adults that included all of the narrative suspense for which he is now famous. Before agreeing to do so, Ridley had one not-so-small demand: “I told Wendy, ‘I’m going to need full access to all of your theme parks if I’m going to be able to write these books,’” he said. Once granted access, Ridley spent endless hours in Walt Disney World—exploring Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom—to give his stories a sense of authenticity. Ridley talked specifically about the different rides he checked out (Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, Splash Mountain, and others) and even had a special surprise for guests. “I think D23 is so special,” Ridley said, “and I think you guys deserve stuff that others don’t get. So I’m going to read from the fifth book.” The author shared a single chapter from his upcoming story, which takes place aboard the Disney Cruise Line.
For the last few minutes of the session, Ridley fielded a number of audience questions ranging from “Is there a Kingdom Keepers movie coming out?” (“The movie is, as I understand it, called Magic Kingdom…and it sadly has nothing to do with the Kingdom Keepers”) to “What advice do you have for young authors?” (“I outline my work… you have to figure out what the beginning, middle, and end of your story is”).
Later in the afternoon, Ridley joined his Peter and the Starcatchers co-writer, Dave Barry, as well as David Arquette and Corey Burton from Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates for a special event at which Disney donated $500,000 and 8 million Disney Publishing Worldwide books to First Book, a national nonprofit organization that provides new books to children in need.
Since its founding in 1992, First Book has distributed more than 85 million new books to children from low-income families in thousands of communities throughout the United States and Canada. First Book now distributes an average of more than 25,000 books per day. Disney Publishing Worldwide has worked with First Book since 1999, helping to get books into the hands of kids and their families. Last year, First Book distributed a total of 7.5 million books; the donation of 8 million Disney books—including titles for the youngest readers up through teen series—will help First Book double this number.
By D23′s Sarah Smith