Author Interview – Brooks Benjamin

Hello readers!

Today we have a special interview with Brooks Benjamin, author of My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights.

The Spork Review: Why write for middle-graders?

Brooks Benjamin: The twelve year old in me won’t let me write anything else. Maybe it’s because because he knows that age is such an important time in our lives–it’s when we begin to figure out stuff like who we’re going to be, who we’re going to like, what we’re going to enjoy, fear, and need. Or maybe it’s because he knows it’s the perfect mixture of being a kid and becoming a young adult that makes that age a wonderfully delicious emotional and behavioral soup. Or maybe it’s because he’s an immature little turd that won’t let go of the fact that he still giggles over fart jokes sometimes.

TSR: The main theme of My 7th Grade Life in Tights is “Find the moves that fit.” Why do you feel that it was important to tell Dillon’s story?

BB: Middle school is a jungle we’ve all explored but will always remain unconquered by human beings. There’s an air of incivility that surrounds it which makes those three years some of the worst years in many people’s lives. It wasn’t any different for me. I had an idea of who I wanted to be but was so scared to allow myself to become that person. So I wanted to write something that spoke to that and to any human who has ever felt that way. I wanted to tell every one of them that it’s fine to be scared and it’s fine to be worried but it’s not fine to let others tell you who or what you should be. “Find the moves that fit” is my dancetastic way of sharing that no matter who you are, there’s a style out there for you, even if you have to make it all up yourself.

TSR: Tell us a bit about your writing process.

It always starts with interesting characters. I hear them say something, I see them do something, I imagine their reaction to something. They’re nothing more than an idea at this point, but while I begin to throw out problems and stories and allow them to speak to it and about it, I learn who they are and who they want to be. Their personalities grow and deepen and the rose-colored glasses come off when I see their flaws. But they become very real to me after that. As I begin to write out their stories, there’s always a fear that I’m getting it wrong, but they always let me know if I am. And as their story progresses, I continue to learn things about them. There’s never a time when I know it all. The difference is that by the time that particular story is finished, I’ve grown to love each of them and appreciate their quirks, their worries, their problems, and their needs, about as much as I can appreciate my own.

TSR: Where is your favorite place to write?

My desk beside the big window that overlooks the woods. And when it’s raining outside I love it even more.

TSR: Can you tell us about what you are working on now?

BB: Sure! I’m working on another MG. This one’s about two friends, one who is very real and is trying to find a way to disappear and one who isn’t quite real and is trying to keep from vanishing altogether.

Lighting Round:

TSR: Favorite NKotB song?

BB: HANGIN’ TOUGH!

TSR: Favorite thing to do to relax?

BB: Play video games while eating pizza.

TSR: Salty or sweet?

BB: You mean salty AND sweet? Yes.
TSR: What is one thing you never leave home without?

BB: My underwear. If I ever have to sacrifice my pants to save someone’s life I want to do it with some dignity.

TSR: Any hidden talents?

BB: I can impersonate a ton of actors or characters from cartoons. When I was a kid, I wanted so badly to be someone else that I tried on different characters all the time. The result was a talent for sounding like, but never being anyone else but me. And that’s pretty cool, I think.

Thanks so much to Brooks for answering some questions for us! Your new book sounds great – I can’t wait to read it!

My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin – Book Review

​Buenos Dias from sunny Progreso, Mexico, folks!

As part of my amazing job, I get the pleasure and privilege of selecting middle grade & young adult books to be featured at the Louisiana Book Festival every year. This past January,  while researching recently published and upcoming books for the 2016 LBF, I ran across a book called My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin. Intrigued by the description, I added it to my list of books to check out.

A wonderful, moving story about being true to yourself, My Seventh Grade Life in Tights is about a boy named Dillon who is part of a dance crew called the Dizzee Freeks.  Unlike his two friends in his crew who have been classically trained in dance, Dilion has had no formal training. His dance style is what’s known among his friends as ‘ninja freestyle’, featuring a series of kicks and punches. (I can’t help but imagine he looks a bit like he’s having a seizure when he dances.)  Dillon is desperate to learn how to ‘properly’ dance so he discovers an opportunity to earn a scholarship to a prestigious dance academy. There’s just one small hitch – dance studios are for sell-outs, at least, according to the rest of his crew.  

Through an ingenious plan (cause you know those always work), Dillon’s crew hatches a plan for Dillon to try out for the scholarship, win, then tell the studio to stick their scholarship where the sun doesn’t shine.

Well you know that’s going to go off without a hitch, right? 😉

Very well-written and perfectly paced, My Seventh Grade Life in Tights  is an encouraging story about ‘finding the moves that fit’.  With a diverse set of characters (yay for diversity!), all with their own struggles and issues, this book will dance its way into the hearts of both kids and adults alike.

Final rating: 5 Sporks

PS: Stay tuned for another author interview!

Author Interview – Jeff Zentner

In celebration of Jeff Zentner’s upcoming book Goodbye Days getting its first major review (and a starred one at that – as if there was any doubt!) we have a special treat – Jeff has agreed to answer a few questions for us!

Continue reading “Author Interview – Jeff Zentner”

The Serpent King & Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner – Book Reviews

For our first official review, I’m reviewing some of my favorite books of all time (seriously, EVERYONE needs to read these books).

As one of the (many) perks of my job, I get to read a lot of really great books, which leads me to get to meet some amazing authors – one of whom is Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016) and the upcoming Goodbye Days (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017).

I first ran across The Serpent King at the beginning of 2016 while researching YA authors to invite to my state’s yearly book festival. Intrigued by the cover (’cause aren’t those covers GORGEOUS?) I checked out the reviews and upon making a decision to invite the author to be featured at the Festival, I also decided to purchase myself a copy to read.

Am I ever glad I did.

From the first page I was sucked into the world of three small-town Tennessee teens – Dill, the son of a disgraced snake-handling preacher (his father’s in prison on some very creepy charges), Lydia, the upper-middle class fashion blogger, and Travis, the fantasy series-reading, dragon necklace-wearing gentle giant. All very different teenagers but best friends yet the same, they are just trying to survive their senior year of high school.

I picked up The Serpent King knowing zero about the author. After finishing, though, I read his author bio and was not surprised to find out that he is also a musician. Jeff’s writing is so lyrical that it is almost serpentine in and of itself with the way it ebbs and flows. Not only do I care so deeply about the characters (I seriously just want to adopt Dill and protect him from all the awfulness he has to endure) but the writing is also so fantastic that it has spanned generations. Everyone I have recommended it to from teenagers to the ages of 90+ has loved this book.

(Which reminds me – if you ever get the chance to listen to the audiobook (narrated by 3 seriously talented folks – Michael Crouch (Dill), Ariadne Meyers (Lydia), and Ethan Sawyer (Travis), do so. You won’t regret it.)

Jeff is one of those rare talents that only come along once every so often, and Dill, Lydia, and Travis will always have a special place in my heart as some of my favorite YA characters ever created –

– so imagine my delight when I found out that Jeff had another book coming out.

Goodbye Days, releasing March 7, 2017, is the story of Carver Briggs, a Nashville teen who has lost his 3 best friends in a car accident – one that was caused while the friend who was driving was replying to a text that Carver had just sent.

Where are you guys? Text me back.

In order to process through his grief over the course of the year, Carver embarks on a series of “Goodbye Days” with the families of his deceased friends. There’s also some other stuff that happens, but… spoilers. 🙂

I’ve been one of the lucky ones who has gotten a chance to read Goodbye Days early, and it is truly a masterful follow-up to The Serpent King. While not a sequel, one of the characters from The Serpent King makes an appearance in Goodbye Days – so read TSK first or else you’ll hit a pretty major spoiler.

Fair warning as well when reading both The Serpent KingGoodbye Days – have tissues handy. LOTS AND LOTS of tissues.  In fact, Jeff, you might want to buy stock in Kleenex since your readers will be using so many.

Final rating: 5 shiny new sporks each.

Even though we had been Tweeting and emailing back & forth during the months leading up to the Festival, I was fortunate enough to have gotten to actually meet Jeff in person at the Festival and hang out with him and get to know him a little afterwards as well.  Jeff is a super genuine guy who truly cares about his readers, so stay tuned for an interview with him!