This week I began work as a professor in residence at the North Haledon Public Schools. As a district, North Haledon is going through a challenging and exciting transition from homogeneous classes to heterogeneous grouping with differentiation. I have been brought in to help the teachers and parents with this enormous change.
As if this wasn’t all exciting enough, I learned that Dan Gutman would be spending today at the Memorial Elementary School, the one elementary school in North Haledon. While Friday is not a day that I typically work, I was there. How could I miss the opportunity to meet Dan and to hear him speak about his writing process?
I was lucky enough to hear Dan present to two groups. Our day began with a room full of first and second graders eager to hear about Dan’s My Weird School series.
This is currently my older daughter, Caroline’s, favorite series so I was anxious to learn about how these books came to be. Dan told us that when his daughter Emma was in the second grade, she loved the Junie B. Jones books. My Weird School was created as a Junie B. Jones type of story, told by a boy. Dan has a new Weird School book coming out on February 22nd, Ms. Leaky is Freaky, and we were lucky enough to hear the first chapter. It is always so great to hear the author read his own work, to hear how he uses expression to make his own characters come to life.
During Dan’s second presentation to the third and fourth grade, he talked about the beginning of his baseball card adventure series, specifically the first book in that series called Honus and Me.
I was certainly inspired as he read one rejection letter after the other knowing how successful these books have become. It turns out that Dan worked for two years to get Honus and Me published. You could almost see the brains of the students spinning, thinking about things that hadn’t worked for them that might be worth a bit more of a fight.
It was also fun to hear that the little boy shown on the bottom of the cover of Honus and Me is Dan’s nephew. And then it was not so fun to hear that when the book was published as a paperback, the publisher took a new picture of a new little boy. I always love the inside facts that you learn when you hear an author speak about their books. These little tidbits truly do give inspiration to both readers and writers.
And for further inspiration, Dan shared that when he was a kid he “hated to read.” In fact, he told the kids that he remembers no favorite books from his childhood. I hope that even one reluctant reader in the crowd today will remember that this one time book hater is now the author of 98 books. Now that is inspriation.