Today I am delighted to continue our Write On! interview with award-winning author and California 2007 Teacher of the Year Alan Sitomer. His latest book, Nerd Girls, is available on Amazon here.
Besides being an author, you are an award-winning teacher. How does teaching influence your writing and the creation of your material?
I show all of my books to real kids first. My students, former students, fans I have gotten to know from around the country, they all get to check out my books hot off the press before anyone else gets a chance to see them. That means before my literary agent. That means before my editor. That means before anyone in the adult world who works in “the publishing industry.” Real kids are my readers and if they don’t like something – if they don’t laugh, if they don’t cry, if they don’t approve – then it doesn’t really matter what the adults think.
Kids are my best, and toughest audience. If my books flies with them, then I know I am good and I’ll go ahead and take it to the next level and begin to show it to the people in the publishing industry. But if I do not get their seal of approval, I stop, listen to their feedback and go back into the piece to go make it work. It’s probably why my fans are so loyal; they know that I respect them and I listen to them and I like them.
Kids who read my books can know that other kids have read them first and given the “Thumbs Up!” sign. I really think that is an important element to my work.
You often talk about “puttin’ the fun” in reading, writing and school. Why?
Let’s be honest: sometimes school can get SO BORING! And there’s no reason for it. But still, grumpy adults sometimes send the message to kids that life is to be serious, serious, serious and humorless, humorless, humorless.
To them I say BLAAAAHHH!
Students are at their best when they are enjoying what they are doing. Students will read more books when they like what they are reading. Students will learn more about a subject when they like what they are learning. Students will try harder to do a good job on the work they are being asked to do if they like the work that they are doing.
That’s my belief and I am sticking with it. (Besides, I was named California Teacher of the Year so ya might think I know just a wee little bit about this stuff, huh?)
Of course, there is a time to be serious. But being serious does not mean that you can’t enjoy yourself. Of course kids have to realize that there are some things in life you just have to do - and do well - even if they are not “fun.” I get that. It’s called reality and the bigger point of school is not to be entertaining. But for the most part I’ve found it’s actually quite satisfying to work really, really hard on something that challenges you deeply. Finding the joy in the challenge is what brings out the best in us.
Just to be clear, I believe that working hard is important. In my classroom, I have little patience for goof-offs but I have a lotta love for kids who put good ol’ fashioned positive energy into their efforts. My belief is that you are not enjoying the work, you probably aren’t going to learn as much as you would if you were enjoying the work. Plus, you are much more likely to try harder when you care about and enjoy what you are doing. Making reading enjoyable and making writing enjoyable makes better readers and writers.
Fun is my secret sauce. It works!
There is all kinds of crazy, fun stuff right now. I’ve built a game. I’ve created some author videos. There’s a Nerd Girls comic.
All free for anyone who wants them.
Of course, there’s already Hollywood talk of a movie and a TV show and clothes and merchandise and blah, blah, blah. (www.TheNerdGirlsWorld.com is the home base for information about all of this stuff.)
But for me, it’s all about the core material right now. Nerd Girls Book II is on its way and beyond that there are a few more surprises in the works.
All in all, I guess it’s just about making sure to have fun, work hard and continue enjoying all the great kids I get to meet who have become fans of my writing. Of course, the teachers and the librarians are great, too, but it’s all about the kids. Their approval means the most to me.
And really, how ridiculously lucky am I to have it? As I tell folks all the time, it’s quite healthy to channel your inner nerd. That’s all I am doing right now. It’s good for the soul.
If you missed Part I of my interview with Alan, check it out here.