*If I visited your school, I would talk about playing sandlot ball, living in Africa, reading horror novels late into the night, making robots, and all the hard work that goes into making a book. Then I would ask kids about books: assigned reading, un-assigned reading, books they love, books they hate, and books they wished there were more of. I leave every school visit feeling like I learned more from the students and teachers than they learned from me.
*The Topps League series was a great opportunity—I wanted to branch out into chapter books, and I love to write about baseball, so it was the perfect project for me. My inspiration came from the Saint Paul Saints, a fun team with lots of great promotions. I’d always thought being a batboy would be a fun job for a kid, so everything fell into place.
*Eric Wight’s illustrations totally make the Topps League books—the covers, the cards, and the interior pictures give the books immense kid appeal. I have to give credit to Chad Beckerman, too—the designer at Abrams, who put the whole package together. The funny thing about working with Eric was, he was the illustrator, but he had way more experience than me writing for this audience. So besides reaping the benefits of his artwork, I also tapped his expertise on chapter books.
*The Loft Literary Center is a nonprofit creative writing center in Minneapolis with classes, events, readings and grants. Other cities have similar entities, but I believe we’re the biggest and the oldest. I say “we” because I work here full time, as the online education manager; it was a great way to combine my day job in instructional technology with my love for writing. It’s a great asset; I talk to writers all the time who are looking for a nexus for literary life in much bigger cities and don’t have one.
*Reading is important to success, no doubt about it – the test scores, the college application essays, the ability to succeed in college and in professional careers. But to me it’s bigger than that. It’s about being engaged as a citizen, connected to the past and the rest of the world and looking to the future. Our country needs well-read, informed, engaged citizens. What I love about middle grade fiction, in particular, is that kids are just discovering how “big” a book can be, and how big their lives can be.
*Three of my favorite middle-grade novels are…
Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars , by Daniel Pinkwater
When I was in fifth and sixth grade—the same age I write for—my favorite writer was Daniel Pinkwater. I loved all of his books, but Alan Mendelsohn is my favorite. It’s about a nerdy kid who realizes he’s awesome when this new kid chooses him to be his best friend; together they learn mind-control tricks and start to wreak havoc at their junior high.
The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars
Byars is probably my biggest influence. Her books often featured sensitive, misfit boys that I really connected to as a child. When I go back and re-read them, I realize how much I’ve been trying to imitate her style, particularly in my second novel, Mamba Point. My favorite by her is The Midnight Fox, which I blogged about for Nerdy Book Club.
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White.
It’s the standard by which all others are measured: beautifully written, funny, sad, magical and real, read and re-read by every generation of children. It’s the kind of book every children’s book writer wants to have written. My first middle-grade novel—which was never published and likely never will be—was a shameless bit of imitation.
* Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about robots. All right, I just wanted to plug my next full-length novel, The Winter of the Robots, which will come out in 2013. It’s about kids who participate in robot battles, who find themselves in the robot battle of their lives.
You could also ask me if anybody special has a birthday this week. The answer is YES. Our baby is turning two. Which I guess means he’s not a baby any more….