Published: Feb 22, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Feb 21, 2012 10:53 AM
The novel, "Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie," is now part of East Cary Middle School culture. In preparation for writer Jordan Sonnenblick's Feb. 24 visit to the school, the students participated in a "whole school read" of his book about an eighth-grade boy who finds out his younger brother has leukemia.
Sonnenblick's visit, made possible by the PTA through a grant from Target, inspired a number of activities at East Cary. Teachers guided lessons related to the book, homerooms decorated doors based on various aspects of the novel, the media coordinator led enrichment looking at the musical references, and the Junior Beta Club organized "Pasta for Pennies," collecting money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Sonnenblick will discuss the award-winning "Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie" with East Cary students but will also promote his newest book, "Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip," at Quail Ridge Books, a spring pick for the Indie Next recommended book list.Q: You said reading the novel, "The Dark is Rising," by Susan Cooper, inspired you to become a novelist. But don't you write realistic fiction?
Yes, I do. I even got the chance to meet Susan Cooper, and I told her "The Dark is Rising" inspired me. She was confused, thinking I must write fantasy. But I mean that the feeling I got when I was reading that novel was the inspiration. I want to make readers feel the way she made me feel. Her writing made me want to be that character.Q: Why do you write middle-grade novels? What about the teen years affects you as a writer?
It is the age when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. It is such a change-fraught age, from eighth to 10th grade.
I like to say that I don't write for that age, but about that age. I don't purposely dumb down my writing. Writing for teens can't be too moralistic; kids can smell that a mile away. I want to write intelligently for kids, and I think they respond to that.
Maurice Sendak's editor, Ursula Nordstrom, said that she made it her mission to publish "good books for bad children." She meant that she didn't support books that made kids sound like angels. One of my best reviews for "Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie" said something like, "thankfully, he doesn't pretend that all kids with cancer are perfect." It was a great compliment.Q: How did having Frank McCourt (author of "Angela's Ashes") as your high school English teacher affect you as a writer?
I think the main thing was that he never went off-message with me. He kept saying, "being funny isn't enough," and "someday you'll head for the deep water." I was so effortlessly good at writing funny things, but he never let me get away with anything. Because he never let up, he really made me try. Funny books without poignancy don't last.
At graduation, he wrote in my yearbook that I was a born writer. He might have written that in other people's yearbooks, too, but it felt like he was anointing me.Q: What is the advice you would give to middle-school students who hope to become novelists?
I think the most important thing is to picture the end, the last scene, before you start page one. It gives you a target, and you know your destination.