The Tornado by Jake Burt

Hello, Jake Burt! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! I hope your school year is going well. What have you been up to since the last time you visited on December 6, 2017?

Jake Burt: Thanks for having me back, John, and for all you do to support children and the authors who write for them. I’ve been the most wonderful kind of busy since last I visited: I continued to tour the country to talk to students about my novels (GREETINGS FROM WITNESS PROTECTION! and THE RIGHT HOOK OF DEVIN VELMA), I wrote several new books (THE TORNADO, which comes out this October, and another novel slated for 2020), and continued to teach my fabulous fifth graders here in Connecticut.

Speaking of THE TORNADO, I can’t wait any longer to show off this cover. Gwen Keraval, a graphic designer and artist who has done work for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe, absolutely knocked it out of the park. My jaw dropped when I saw it, and it’s been tremendously hard to resist plastering the art all over social media with tears in my eyes and all-caps exhortations to FEAST YOUR EYES ON THIS MASTERPIECE OF AWESOME:

WOW! You have been busy! Thank you for sharing The Tornado’s cover. I love Gwen Keraval’s illustration. Please tell us about the significance of the objects featured on the cover.

Jake Burt: First off, I’d like to say that he couldn’t have captured the soul of this book better than he did. I adore “readable” covers, and I was stunned by how much he fit on the canvas without making it seem overly busy. There’s so much here to take in, and every last bit of it pays homage to the characters at the heart of the story. I’ll begin with them – on the left is Bell Kirby, our main character. He’s a fifth grader with problems, none bigger than Parker Hellickson, the bully who has made his life miserable since third grade. Bell has learned to hide well, whether it’s behind his shaggy hair or in the pages of his notebook, which is filled with maps, schedules, and charts. Each is designed to help him avoid Parker at all costs; they’re his precious systems. As such, Gwen made the background details on Bell’s side of the cover resemble a complicated flow chart, several branches of which terminate in that fateful letter P…

Opposite Bell is Daelynn Gower. She’s the wrinkle in Bell’s carefully-crafted master plan. When she shows up at Village Green Elementary with her patchy pants, kaleidoscope hair, and heterochromatic eyes, it throws Bell’s whole system off, and as a result he finds himself right where he doesn’t want to be: at the center of Parker’s attention. Still, he can’t help but be fascinated by her. She’s an artist, and her drawings are every bit as magnificent as his systems. You’ll see her work represented thematically on her half of the cover, organic to Bell’s systematic, natural to his linear, chaotic to his orderly.

Framing the work are the massive gears of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest inventions: his tank. It’s also represented at the center of the lower half of the cover. Those gears are symbolically vital to the narrative, as is the tank itself. You’ll also see two special guests holding court in the corners: Daelynn’s horse and Fuzzgig, Bell’s pet chinchilla. I like to think of them as my protagonists’ patronuses (patroni?), to crib a term from a fellow MG author’s glossary.

And all that? It only scrapes the surface. The depth Gwen achieved here, using his vivid but intentionally limited palette, is a tour de force about which I could not be more thrilled. Daelynn’s eyes…her shoes…the design on her shirt…the bullseye on Bell’s hoodie…the storm clouds…the shape of the title structure itself…it’s all heavy with symbolism, and I love every bit of it. I couldn’t be more pleased, and I hope readers are, too! 

Which three words best describe Bell Kirby?

Oooh…only three? Alright. Here goes:

1) Calculating

2) Harrowed, and

3) Wrong 

Please finish these sentence starters:

I hope The Tornado shows readers that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to stand up for someone else.

Parker Hellickson was one of the most emotionally difficult characters I’ve ever written, because he’s modeled after my own bully. Many of the ways he torments Bell? In fifth grade, I lived through them myself.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about where the title comes from! It’s a reference to THE WIZARD OF OZ, one of over 60 Easter eggs related to Dorothy’s tale scattered through the novel. Hopefully readers will have fun finding them all…

Look for The Tornado on October 1, 2019. 

Bell Kirby is an expert at systems, whether he’s designing the world’s most elaborate habitat for his pet chinchilla, re-creating Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest inventions in his garage, or avoiding Parker Hellickson, the most diabolical bully Village Green Elementary has ever seen.

Since third grade, Parker has tormented Bell, who’s spent two long years devising a finely tuned system that keeps him out of Parker’s way. Sure, it means that Bell can’t get a drink when he wants to, can’t play with his best friend on the playground, and can’t tell his parents about his day, but at least he’s safe.

Until Daelynn Gower touches down in his classroom like a tornado.

Bell’s not sure why the new girl, with her rainbow hair, wild clothes, and strange habits, is drawn to him, but he knows one thing - she means trouble. It’s bad enough that she disrupts Bell’s secret system, but when Daelynn becomes the bully’s new target, Bell is forced to make an impossible decision: Finally stand up to Parker. . .

Or join him.


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