Author Dan Gutman made a special appearance at Webb Elementary on Thursday, January 26 to visit with McKinney ISD’s 4th and 5th grade ALPHA students. During an interactive hour filled with laughter, honest insight and a preview of his latest series, The Genius Files, Gutman encouraged his young audience to persevere in the face of rejection.
Gutman is an authority on the subject. For two years, he sent his manuscript to publisher after publisher, each time receiving the same response, “No, thanks.” Some thought it wasn’t believable, others pointed out inconsistencies, and one publisher thought there was just no audience for it. The bottom line was that nobody was interested. Until HarperCollins – publisher number 11 – said, “Yes!”
The manuscript that nobody wanted was Honus & Me, the story of a boy who finds a Honus Wagner baseball card that allows him to travel back in time to meet the man himself. After it was published in 1997, the book went on to win numerous state literary awards, sparked a 10-novel series and became a TV movie. Now, Gutman has over 90 book titles to his credit.
Persistence pays off. It’s one of the messages that Gutman conveys to all of his school audiences. “I want kids to understand that you can be rejected a million times and still be successful,” he said.
Debbie Rohlmeier, language arts curriculum writer and ALPHA teacher at Webb Elementary helped arrange the author’s visit. ALPHA is McKinney ISD’s program for identified gifted and talented students. When Rohlmeier learned that Gutman was appearing at A Real Bookstore in nearby Fairview and that he was interested in visiting some local schools, she knew it would provide a great learning experience for her kids.
Many of them were already fans of Gutman’s books such as the …& Me baseball card adventure series and the wacky My Weird School series, so they were naturally excited to meet Gutman. But, with this year’s curriculum focus on journalism, the author’s visit also provided a perfect opportunity for the ALPHA students to take on the role of reporter and put their classroom study into practice.
As part of their preparation for Gutman’s visit, the students previewed the first two titles in his latest series, The Genius Files. Rohlmeier said that after reading the first chapter of each of the books, her students were eager to get their hands on a copy. Indeed, Gutman’s introduction of the novels during his presentation was met with excited “ooh’s” and “aah’s.” The author detailed his creative process, introduced the main characters and walked the kids through a plot filled with plenty of humor, action and an RV road trip to intriguing stops such as the SPAM® Museum in Austin, Minnesota.
The students couldn’t get enough, and they had plenty of thoughtful questions for Gutman. They wanted to know his inspiration for the interesting and oddly named characters (e.g., Gazebo Zamboni) that populate his books. They inquired about Gutman’s writing process and how he keeps the creative juices flowing. One boy wanted to know why Gutman had chosen a particular ending for one of his books. Another simply wondered, “What is SPAM®?”
Now, the kids will do a little writing of their own to document the experience and will post their articles on Webb Elementary’s ALPHA News Network.
Gutman’s ability to engage his audience seems to lie in his remarkable understanding of the way kids think. He knows what they like, and he appeals to their intelligence while connecting with them on their level. Of his writing, Rohlmeier said, “It fits. They get it. And he gets that.”
At the conclusion of his time, Gutman autographed copies of his books and answered individual questions. He said that he was very impressed with his audience and hoped that his visit would encourage them to not give up in the face of rejection and to be willing to keep working through the editing process to make their writing better. “And,” he said, “I want them to think that maybe they could grow up and do something crazy like making a living as a writer.”
For additional information on Dan Gutman, visit his website at www.dangutman.com.