In fifth grade, I loved reading any book with Henry Huggins in it. The book that hooked me on reading, in fact, was Ribsyby Beverly Cleary (who until adulthood I called Beverly Clearly).
Today my first middle grade novel, Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth (Sterling, 2015) debuts in bookstores across the United States and Canada. Zack Delacruz was borne of a need for books that would speak to my students—the real students who crowded my classrooms for over twenty years. I wanted them to have books that reflected their diversity of culture and experience. I wanted them to have books that made them laugh and think. I wanted them read a book the way I devoured Henry Huggins. I wanted a book in which nothing truly horrific had to happen.
Don’t get me wrong, death and tragedy certainly raise the stakes in a plot and a multitude of books already do that well. A third-grade teacher recently told me about her class comparing and contrasting their read alouds for the year. A girl scrunched up her face and concluded, “If the grandma dies in this book, then someone will have died in every book we’ve read this year.”
Most middle grade children struggle on a regular basis with more than death or tragedy–bullying, invisibility, and other everyday problems that plague middle grade kids. This was my purpose for writing Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth. I’d create a day-to-day romp through middle grade life, using the lens of humor to make sense of it all. While Henry Huggins nourished me as a reader, my experiences as a teacher in Title I urban schools nourished me as a writer. The vibrant talk and worries and exposure to what’s important to middle graders provided more drama than a writer could ask for. In fact, middle graders flare for drama drives the plot of Zack Delacruz.
Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth is not a book about diversity, though the characters are indeed diverse in culture and experience. It’s not an issue book either, though bullying and the over-simplified fixes often given to kids are explored. In the end, I hope readers are entertained—that they laugh and think and pick up another book. I hope they discover at our greatest depths that people are people. We all make mistakes. But what pulls us apart is a small matter when compared to what binds us together.
Everyday reading is for everyday life—I hope to help readers see life clearly now as Beverly Cleary showed me.
Jeff Anderson lives and writes in San Antonio, Texas (and in planes when necessary). He has penned a few books on teaching writing and grammar, including Mechanically Inclined and 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. He loves traveling around talking about writing with teachers and students, and now he hopes to continue that and spend even more time as a fiction writer. Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth is the first in a series of Zack Delacruz novels. Check out the book trailer:https://youtu.be/pDgM72CwdBU