Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker

Hello, Sara Pennypacker! When I typed your name just now, I was taken back to when we ate dinner together the evening before a Scholastic Reading Summit. I loved chatting with you about Pax. Memories!!

Sara Pennypacker: Mr, Schu, hi, it’s been a long time! I’ve been holed up here in my studio for a couple of years, just writing. Now I’m wondering what you’ve been up to... 


I have a feeling we will have an opportunity to catch up when you go on tour for Here in the Real World. Speaking of Here in the Real World, I am excited and honored you dropped by to chat with me about it. I haven’t stopped thinking about Ware and Jolene since I finished reading their story. What planted the seed for Here in the Real World?

Sara Pennypacker: What brought me to write it was Pax, actually. It’s often that way – creation is a river that flows in a loop. Here’s what happened: After Pax came out, I traveled around talking to kids about the subjects in the book, which were big, difficult problems: the things that happen to kids and animals as a result of wars. Everywhere I went, over and over and over, I was struck by this: no matter what the issue, the kids all responded the same way: “What can we do to fix it?” Now, often when adults encounter big, difficult problems they respond with “That’s too big to fix,” or “I’m powerless to do anything about it,” or “It’s someone else’s problem.” In comparison, the kids saying “What can we do to fix it?” seemed heroic to me. And it seemed story-worthy. So I wrote a book where three kids see problems and all of them struggle to figure out what to do about them, and then ultimately do something. They are all heroic to me. 


What ran through your head (or your heart) the first time you saw Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen’s cover illustration?

Sara Pennypacker: Well, I assume you mean after I got up from my knees and wiped away the tears of gratitude, right? Because seriously – how lucky can one author get? Well, okay - after that, I studied the piece in stunned admiration, the way I always study Jon’s work. I don’t know how he manages to get so much mystery and emotion and beauty out of brushstrokes and color choices – it’s as if he knows a secret language that all the rest of us can understand but not speak. What a cover! 




What are three things Ware would want us to know about him? 

Sara Pennypacker: First - just because someone is quiet doesn’t mean she or he is not engaged with what’s going on, or doesn’t care. Some of us just like to think things through for a while before responding.

Second - people who enjoy spending some time alone each day are NOT anti-social – they just enjoy spending some time alone each day!

Finally - people who imagine things the way they could are often accused of ‘Not living in the real world,’ or being ‘a Dreamer.’ But another way to think about that habit/ability could be ‘visualizing an end result.’ And someone has to be able to do that, or we’d never improve the world!

Ok, maybe it’s not so much Ware wanting you to know these things as me. Because of all the characters I’ve ever written, Ware is the closest to how I was as a child – and still am. And here’s a thought for other kids who might also be like this: Being a writer is a really, really good job for people who are quiet and like to think things through, people who enjoy spending some time alone, and people who can imagine things!




Please finish the following sentence starters:

I hope Here in the Real WorldToday, kids aren’t as shielded from the tough stuff going on in the world as they were in other generations. When they learn about problems, a lot of them want to help. So besides being a good story – which is always an author’s first priority – I hope that Here in the Real World feels like an encouragement that everyone has a role to play in solving problems, no matter your age. You don’t always get to do something big and dramatic, and not everything can be solved, but there’s usually something around the edges that can be done. And that’s heroic, too.

Story is too many things to list here! But I think my favorite thing about story is that it’s the best way I know to recognize who you are, and at the same to find out who you could be. You read a story, and there you are, or some part of you, in the character, and it’s like looking into a mirror. But also you get to try on characters who might be different from you, see how the world looks and feels from a different point of view. 


Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I’m working on now! Tragically, I’m not able to talk about it yet - I’ve been sworn to secrecy. But I can tell you that I'm so excited I'm using multiple exclamation marks!!!! And I promise to drop you a line the instant I get the okay to announce it... 





Look for Here in the Real World on February 4, 2020.

From the author of the highly acclaimed, New York Times bestselling novel Pax comes a gorgeous and moving new middle grade novel that is an ode to introverts, dreamers, and misfits everywhere.

Ware can’t wait to spend summer “off in his own world”—dreaming of knights in the Middle Ages and generally being left alone. But then his parents sign him up for dreaded Rec camp, where he must endure Meaningful Social Interaction and whatever activities so-called “normal” kids do.

On his first day Ware meets Jolene, a tough, secretive girl planting a garden in the rubble of an abandoned church next to the camp. Soon he starts skipping Rec, creating a castle-like space of his own in the church lot. Jolene scoffs, calling him a dreamer—he doesn’t live in the “real world” like she does. As different as Ware and Jolene are, though, they have one thing in common: for them, the lot is a refuge.

But when their sanctuary is threatened, Ware looks to the knights’ Code of Chivalry: Thou shalt do battle against unfairness wherever faced with it. Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and Good—and vows to save the lot. But what does a hero look like in real life? And what can two misfit kids do?

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