Short Chapters & Big Ideas: Los Alamos Native Writes Books For Middle School Non-Readers

Phil Rink

Los Alamos Daily Post

When Phil Rink was growing up in Los Alamos, he was a bright kid, already on the road to becoming the inventor and engineer he would be as an adult.

His favorite books were not about magic and dragons, nor were they about interpersonal relationships between young adults. He loved plot driven books that explained something, or taught how to solve a problem, he said. Now this type of book, think Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, has become hard to find. Rink and his wife, Nancy, who also is an engineer, are doing something about it.

“I write books for bright kids who don’t want to waste time on an empty story,” Rink said. “Our goal is to get kids reading.”

Spurred on by his daughter, who, like him, was not interested in the kind of books marketed to middle schoolers, Rink decided to write and market books geared toward the kind of kids who love solving problems and learning about something that interests them.

And so the Jimi & Isaac books were born.  Jimi and Isaac are two boys of middle-school age. Written in first person, as either Jimi or Isaac, the books have distinctive covers that look like a kid’s notebook, and the back is a grade summery, as though the book was a class assignment.

I’m basically a smart-mouthed 12-year-old boy,” Rink said. “I don’t have to work hard to get in character.”

The books have action plots about subjects that interest kids of this age, like sports and science topics. Currently, there are seven books in the series. Los Alamos kids might find “Jimi & Isaac 3A: The Mars Misson” interesting, Rink suggested.

Currently, there are seven books in the series. The latest, “Jimi and Isaac 5A: The Brain Injury” won a prestigious Kirkus Kirkus 2015 Star Review and Best Books of 2015 award,

“What the books teach about problem solving is that you try and you fail, and fail again until you find the answer,” Rink said. “Criticism is good because it gives you new information.”

When asked by middle-school girls why the two main characters are both boys, Rink told them that if he tried to write as a middle-school girl, they’d spot him as phony right away.

“I just don’t know what it’s like to be a middle school girl,” he said. “I’d get everything wrong.”

None the less, one-third of the books’ audience are girls.  Nancy, who also didn’t read for fun as a kid, identifies with this part of the audience.

“I had three brothers, but I was the most natural engineer,” she said. “I loved to build things and solve problems.”

There are no pictures in the books.

“We want people to see themselves and their friends when they read the books,” Rink said.

Getting their self-published books to the intended audience has not been easy.

“The book industry doesn’t acknowledge the need for this kind of book,” Nancy said. “The publishing industry sells to the five percent of kids who already read. When a book is successful, they produce more books just like it.”

The giant force in children’s books, Scholastic, has in effect, cornered the market on kid’s books, the Rinks said. Only Scholastic books can be marketed at the book fairs the company sets up, and they market heavily to school libraries.

“We’re very successful as Indy publishers, but we’re just a blip against the big publishers,” Nancy said.

The rise of has helped to solve the marketing problem for Indy publishers and the books are available there, but Phil and Nancy also have come up with an innovative way to get their books into the hands of readers.

“We travel to different schools and talk to about a thousand kids a year about storytelling,” Rink said. “We also talk about problem-solving and innovation. Kids love it and we always get asked back.”

On one school visit, a reading specialist told Phil and Nancy a story about a kid who wouldn’t read. He was passionate about baseball, the subject of  “Jimi & Issac 1B: Curve Ball.”

“He loved the book so much he stole it,” Rink said. “He carried it around with him.”

 The reading specialist was thrilled, and when the Rinks came to the boy’s school, Phil signed the book for him.

What’s the price of these visits to the schools? Buy a set of books for the school library, Nancy said. Rink is passionate about reaching middle schoolers.

“Middle school is where they light up,” he said. “They are who they are when they get to high school, especially boys. Nobody is smart enough to know who you should be. You have to approach the world with your eyes open.”

To learn more, purchase books or get in touch with the Rinks, visit