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Five questions for Andrew Clements

Photo: George Clements.

I can’t think of anyone better than Andrew Clements to start off our back-to-school issue of The Horn Book Herald. Clements had been publishing picture books for ten years when his first novel, Frindle, came out in 1996. Has there been a fifth grader since who hasn’t read it? And Frindle was just the first, soon to be joined by such school-story successes as The Landry News and The Report Card. In The Losers Club, we get in sixth grader Alec a trademark Clements anti-hero blessed — or not — with a desire sure to endear him to librarians everywhere: all he wants is to be left alone to read.

1. In the twenty-some years since Frindle, how have your school stories had to accommodate changes in American educational culture?

AC: In surprisingly few ways, I think. Computers and the internet and cellphones are now part of some scenes I write, but I’ve tried to keep my stories guided by what I think is a central truth: childhood itself is a constant. When I visit schools today, apart from the technology and what is often an accompanying sense of pressure and intensified pace, I see few real changes. Children are still very much children. The best teachers and librarians know this and continue to meet children where they are, rather than where the prevailing “American educational culture” thinks they ought to be. And I keep trying to do the same.

2. Alec’s go-to book is Hatchet. What was yours when you were his age? What is it now?

AC: When I was in sixth grade, I was crazy about Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, one of the few books that I loved to re-read — and still do. These days I have no particular go-to book. Sadly, I often need to avoid reading other people’s books so that I can keep my own little narrative engine on its tracks. But one author I never tire of is David McCullough. I enjoyed a lot of biography and nonfiction as a kid, and when this gifted researcher and storyteller revisits people and events I thought I knew about, it’s always a revelation. Also, to this day, when I want to get inspired about great writing, I turn to Charlotte’s Web.

3. Do you think it’s possible to read too much?

AC: This is a question explored in The Losers Club, and I think the answer is yes. Reading is an important part of life, but one thing that makes a book worth reading is that its writer has been living and thinking and doing — and not merely reading about living and thinking and doing. Balance always matters.

4. Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” kills me. Say something smart about it so that between us we’ll find it some more readers.

AC: This story can make a hardened bully decide to never be mean again. This story can make a reader experience sunshine as it has never been seen or felt before. Whether reading this marvel of American fiction aloud to fourth-grade hooligans, eighth-grade goofballs, or eleventh-grade know-it-alls, the response never varies: stunned silence, followed by spirited discussion.

5. What’s the best advice you can offer to an incoming sixth grader?

AC: No matter what is demanded of you, you’ve really got just one task: all you ever have to do is the next good thing — it’s that simple, and that challenging. And above all, be kind.

From the August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Herald: Back to School.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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