by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I always wanted to be an author.
In fifth grade at the John Ward School on Dolphin Road in Newton, Massachusetts, with Mrs. Quinn as my teacher, I penned what I remembered was a full-length novel, entitled Danny Sompedia Around Town.
In reality, what I wrote was a very medium-well-crafted first chapter with successively rushed second, third, fourth, and fifth chapters.
Here's the plot: on page one, Danny's parents are killed in a horrible car accident, and Danny and his dog are left to survive on their own.
Honestly, I thought Danny Sompedia was the most original idea on the planet. And in my burnished view of my elementary school work, Danny Sompedia was a full-length novel just a few hours of rewriting away from being publishable.
Many years later as a publishing professional, when I was involved in judging a Young Writers of America contest, I learned that many, many, many aspiring young authors kill off the parents of the only child (who usually has a dog) pretty close to the beginning of the book.
One of the best perks of my job as President and Reader in Chief of Scholastic Book Clubs is that I get to meet, hang out with, and—in many cases—be friends with some of the most incredible children’s book authors and illustrators. I have such reverence and respect for “real” published authors and illustrators and the hard work, determination, and courage it takes to write a book and get it published and marketed so that kids will want to read it.
And I love seeing children connect to real live authors. That experience can be life changing. Recently we celebrated at the 15th anniversary gala of Behind the Book—a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing authors into the classrooms of underserved children in New York City.
My co-honoree at this lovely, emotion-filled, and humbling event was Renée Watson, the New York Times–bestselling author of Piecing Me Together, which won the 2018 Coretta Scott King Author Award and a Newbery Honor. Here we are at the magical Rare Book Room of the Strand bookstore with Behind the Book Executive Director Jo Umans. This was a true celebration of the power of connecting kids to books and authors.
I feel as though I have known Gordon Korman—the author of this week’s Dollar Deal, Ungifted—for his entire career. But he actually started writing long before we ever met!
Gordon Korman is a New York Times–bestselling author who some may say has been “gifted” at writing since he was a child. Unlike me, he finished his first novel when he was just 12 years old. At 14 (when he was the class monitor for Scholastic’s Arrow Book Club!), he submitted his manuscript for This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! to a Scholastic writing contest.
Since This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall!, Gordon has published 65 novels—selling 25 million copies—and is beloved by millions of children across the US and around the world. He is as fun-loving, generous, and engaged in helping kids connect to the right book as anyone I know.
I’m excited to share that this week’s Dollar Deal is Gordon Korman’s Ungifted. The laugh-out-loud story follows a prankster named Donovan Curtis, who is accidentally sent to a school for extremely gifted and intelligent students. (And if your students love it, there’s a sequel called Supergifted that was just published in early 2018!)
“Donovan has a goofy kindness that charms characters and readers alike.…The message is tolerance, and Korman expertly and humorously delivers it in an unpretentious and universally appealing tale.” —School Library Journal
I have a special feeling for the theme Gordon explores in the character Donovan. First of all, unlike Danny Sompedia, Donovan didn’t suffer his parents’ demise on the first page. Plus, and more importantly, Ungifted makes the topic of who is gifted and talented (spoiler alert: every kid in their own way) relatable and fun and super interesting.
After reading Ungifted, my friend and colleague David Vozar was reminded of his brother.
“My brother is gifted.
“Throughout our childhood, he was always making amazing things. He found an old bicycle, bought a used engine, and somehow managed to assemble his own motorized scooter. He built rockets and launched them so high in the sky that they went out of sight. At one point, he made a huge hot air balloon that took about five kids to guide it into an open field before taking off. Each invention would be met with great excitement in the neighborhood, and all the other kids would come out to join in the wonder of each one.
“Growing up in the shadow was not, as you would imagine, a problem for me. He instilled in me a belief that if you could think it up, you could build it. I tried to build a fort in the backyard that was really to just a pile of rocks. I tried to build a hovercraft to fly around in that got as far as a bunch of plywood nailed together.
“Eventually, I turned to art and have always taken the same approach. I imagine what I want to do and simply begin to try and do it. It all starts with imagination and a belief that anything is possible.”
Join the blog team this week as we build paper robots in Cooked Up from a Book; hear directly from Gordon Korman himself in Behind the Scenes; learn that “IQ isn’t everything” from a wise-beyond-her-years middle schooler in Book Talks; and laugh along as the Book Boys battle it out to discover who is the reading champion!
I hope your class enjoys Ungifted by Gordon Korman, and that it reminds your students that—just like their favorite authors—they each bring their own gifts to the classroom.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs