Interview with the Author of Freak the Mighty
by Alana Pedalino
Rodman Philbrick, the Newbery Honor author of Freak the Mighty, talks friendship, writing technique, and character inspiration in this Scholastic Book Clubs–exclusive interview.
Two unique, quirky characters join forces in Freak the Mighty to stand up to their bullies and learn about the power of friendship. After reading, we couldn’t help but wonder if author Rodman Philbrick drew on his own real-life friendships to write their story.
The award-winning author—and former longshoreman and boat builder—provided answers to some of our burning questions. Read his interview with your class to discover the inspiration behind Rodman’s book, his own childhood friendships, and his approach to writing.
Scholastic Book Clubs: What was your reasoning for including Freak’s dictionary in the back of Freak the Mighty?
Rodman Philbrick: The real boy who inspired the character of Kevin had an advanced vocabulary at a young age. So I wanted him to express himself in a way that might be above a reader’s vocabulary level in, say, fifth grade. But I also wanted that reader to know what Kevin meant without having to look it up in a separate dictionary. This way, all the reader has to do is flip to the end of the book. Of course, once I started writing word definitions in Kevin’s voice, I got carried away and wanted it to be interesting and funny, just like Kevin. Language can be so much fun, it just makes you want to play with it.
SBC: The names of the chapters are very unique. What was the motivation behind naming the chapters?
RP: In my opinion, there’s only one reason to use chapter titles. The title must make you want to read the chapter. The title makes a promise: turn the page, see what happens—you won’t be disappointed. Just to pick one title, how can you not find out what “Into the Black Down Under” means? I double-dare you not to read “Close Encounter of the Turd Kind.” Can’t be done!
SBC: Freak the Mighty celebrates friendship. As a child, how did you celebrate and lift up your friends?
RP: Now that’s tough. What did we do to remain friends? We ran wild in the woods, pretending that Frankenstein’s monster was chasing us. We told each other outrageous stories inspired by the comic books we devoured. We rode our bikes down hills, no hands, laughing all the way. The best way to keep friendship alive is to find whatever joy you can in life and share it with a friend.
SBC: You’ve been writing for a long time and have authored over a dozen books. What inspires you to keep writing?
RP: After all these years, it’s still fun making stuff up!
How do your students lift up their friends and each other? We’d love to hear from you! Please share their answers on social media using the hashtag #ScholasticBookClubs.
Rodman Philbrick grew up on the New England coast, where he worked as a longshoreman and boat builder. For many years, he wrote mysteries and detective novels for adults. Then, inspired by the life of a boy who lived a few blocks away, he wrote Freak the Mighty, the award-winning young-adult novel that has been translated into numerous languages and is now read in schools throughout the world. The book was adapted for the screen as The Mighty, starring Sharon Stone, Gillian Anderson, James Gandolfini, Kieran Culkin, and Elden Henson.
Rodman is the author of a number of novels for young readers, including The Fire Pony, Max the Mighty, REM World, The Last Book in the Universe, The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds, The Young Man and the Sea, The Big Dark, Wildfire, and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, which won a Newbery Honor in 2010 and was performed on stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in 2012.
Photo credit: Jan Bamberger
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