Gregory Mone of West Tisbury is a children’s book author who never lost his childlike wonder at the world. His books are for naturally curious kids, and adults who want to regain their latent curiosity. His fiction has covered a range of existing characters and people — Einstein, Santa, Skeletor (for those of you not familiar with Skeletor, he is the archenemy of the superhero He-Man). Mone has also collaborated with well-known authors and scientists, such as Bill Nye (“Bill Nye’s Great Big World of Science,” and the “Jack and the Geniuses” series) and Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry”).
In an email exchange with Mone, I asked him about his process for getting into the mind of a character who already has an existing backstory in order to craft a new story. “I try to read everything I can about the person or character, interview experts, and watch any relevant shows or documentaries. When my brain fills up, I start writing. And when the book is finished, I pull the plug, and forget everything,” he explained.
Parents may be familiar with the trend in adult books adapted for young readers, such as Robin Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults” or Heather McGhee’s “The Sum of Us (Adapted for Young Readers): How Racism Hurts Everyone.” Mone worked with deGrasse Tyson to adapt the bestselling book “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” into a young reader’s edition. I was curious about how he made an esoteric topic like astrophysics kid-friendly without losing the nuance of the topic. “The trick is to think about the story that informed the original adult book, and then imagine how you’d tell that story to kids. Sometimes you end up preserving a lot of the original material, and sometimes you end up with something completely new.”
Mone’s latest works, two middle-grade novels, delve into the realm of the fantastic and feature beloved characters from “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” Mone also released two novels set in He-Man’s Eternia universe in 2022: “The Hunt for Mossman” and “I, Skeletor,” which take place on planet Eternia, an Earth-like world with fantasy and science fiction elements. To quote the opening from “I, Skeletor”: “Eternia has a rich and varied history filled with great warriors and kings, devious lords and tyrants, powerful magicians and sorceresses, and fascinating creatures and monsters of all types.” He-Man, né Adam, was a regular 16-year-old living on Eternia. He was given the Sword of Power, allowing him to channel the energy of Castle Greyskull and transform into He-Man.
These books draw on over 40 years of deep and rich lore. How close did Mone stay to the original He-Man storyline? “The He-Man books are based on a new, revamped Netflix series for kids, and I did stick close to that storyline/world,” Mone explained. “I worked closely with the creative team at Mattel, the parent company of the brand, to get everything right.”
Luckily, Mone had the rare opportunity to work as Skeletor’s ghostwriter, sharing the Dark Master of Havoc’s side of the story.
Ghostwriters have been in the news recently, with the release of “Spare” by Prince Harry and ghostwriter J.R. Moehringer. But presumably, Prince Harry is no Skeletor. Mone joked that the greatest difficulty with being Skeletor’s ghostwriter was, “He insulted me constantly and had no appreciation for all the hard work I put into the project. I’m never going to work with him again. Unless he teaches me how to create portals so I can pop into Edgartown in the summer without dealing with traffic and parking. I’d give him another book for that.” What year-round Islander wouldn’t make the same deal?
“He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” books are excellent for the 8- to 12-year-old in your life who loves comic books, superheroes, and dreams of defeating evil. They obviously pair well with the matching Netflix series. If you have a reluctant reader at home, encourage them to try a chapter of “The Hunt for Mossman” before an episode of the Netflix series. Ask them to point out differences in characters or scenes, and how they imagined it in the book versus how it was portrayed in the Netflix series
“I, Skeletor” and “The Hunt for Mossman” are available locally for purchase at Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books. They’re also available for checkout at any of the Island libraries.
Caroline Drogin is the assistant director and youth services librarian at the Chilmark Free Public Library.