The moment I met Pfister Hotel guest Russell Ginns, I was plunged into a world of ninjas, secret passages and brain-teasing puzzles- and that was all before I caught his first name! Ginns is the creator of the Samantha Spinner book series, a collection about an intrepid girl on globe-trotting adventures that include mystery, danger, and, of course, her annoying little brother.
The effervescent author created a world where middle readers can lose themselves. In the series, nothing is quite as it seems, ninjas are lurking in secret passageways and in order to survive, the characters must be observant and clever. Educators are embracing the page-turning series, not just because these are books that kids are happy to read, but while following the adventures they are also learning geography, being introduced to foreign languages, and using their analytical reasoning skills to uncover clues that Sam and her siblings need to make sense of the strange things happening all around them.
It is not surprising that there are so many games and puzzles worked into the Samantha Spinner books. Ginns has written a number of puzzle books and is a game designer who created Nintendo’s Adventure Book series. He has also written songs, worked with Big Bird and his friends at Sesame Street and invented a number of board games. The prolific creator is comfortable in the magical world of children where anything is possible and has spent his career developing opportunities for children to learn in engaging, interactive ways.
In town to introduce Sam Spinner to readers at Victory Elementary and General Mitchell Elementary schools, Ginns has been to 95 elementary schools over the last year. His delight in working with kids was evident as he flipped through his phone, showing me photo after photo of field houses and cafeterias filled with smiling students bubbling over with excitement to explore the world he created for them. As I looked at the pictures of the gap-tooth smiles and goofy poses, Ginns said candidly that if it were possible, he’d love nothing more than to spend the remainder of his book tour in the company of 4th graders. The air around him crackled with excitement as he recalled his readers’ enthusiasm for discovery and their zeal for adventure, qualities it seems as if the author also possesses.
When asked why he chose to make his protagonist a girl, he stated that “there has been 250 years of male protagonists and it was time for a girl” to have the lead in an action-based adventure. He knew the girls were willing to read books with male leads, he had watched his daughters eagerly devour the Captain Underpants series, and his instinct told him boys would read about a girl, particularly one who is rubbing elbows with secret agents and finds herself in the stinky, silly situations that grade school kids adore.
You may not know Russell Ginns by name, but it is very likely that you know his work. Samantha Spinner isn’t yet a household name, but every day a few more kids sneak a flashlight into bed and follow Sam on her adventures long after they were supposed to be asleep. It is for those fans of the brave, intelligent Miss Spinner that I end by imploring you to please: “Watch out for the RAIN!”
You can learn more about Russell and all of his amazing creations here
Amended to add: Days after Russell Ginns checked out, he sent me this photo- it appears he has discovered a “secret hub between Milwaukee, Michigan and Norway.” Let me know if you find the button, so far I have not had any luck!