The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy has been busy spinning yarns.
“Under Wildwood,” being released next week, is the second children’s tome by the musician and his wife, artist-illustrator Carson Ellis. The pair comes to town Monday to sign copies at Books Inc. Opera Plaza.
“Wildwood Chronicles” — a series for middle-schoolers — debuted last year with the New York Times-bestselling “Wildwood,” which has been optioned by Laika, the stop-motion studio that produced the film “Coraline.”
“Being able to write a story at length has been really enjoyable,” Meloy says. “It felt like I could be unbridled in a way that I’m not sometimes in music. As I’m writing the third one, I can’t imagine that this will be the last. I would like to do more.”
Well-crafted, all-consuming and epic, “Wildwood” sucks the reader into its vortex as 12-year-old Prue McKeel is lured into a magical forest on the outskirts of Portland, her hometown. She’s in search of her baby brother, who has been kidnapped by a “murder” of crows.
Meloy’s vocabulary is just as quirky in the books as in his Decemberists lyrics.
“I didn’t want to write down to kids,” Meloy says. “Kids that age are able to take in and comprehend a lot. Maybe, if it is challenging for someone, they would find the joy of reading a long and more difficult book than they’re accustomed to. That’s part of the pleasure of reading I think.”
Ellis’ lavish illustrations provide equal pleasure. The forest is atwitter with magic vegetation, mystic sages and chatty, authoritative animals. Coyotes are uniformed, musket-toting bandits and moles wear bottle caps for armor and brandish sewing needle swords.
The wood, partitioned into factions, includes an Avian Principality. The politics are complex, and the resolution hinges on Prue. There are battles, but the rabble-rousing is less intense than in the gorier series “The Hunger Games,” which is aimed at a similar age group.
“The fact that ‘The Hunger Games’ was so incredibly violent blew me away,” Meloy says. “There’s a fraction of that in these books. We haven’t censored our book because I think there’s a place for that in kids’ imaginations and we do them a discredit to think that they’re not able to handle that.”
Meloy, who counts J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl and John Bellairs among his favorite authors from childhood, leaves the reader panting for more after the second book.
“I wanted it to have an ‘Empire Strikes Back’ moment,” Meloy says. “The bad guys win a little bit and everybody has to reassess and find the strength to move forward.”