Rotten Ralph could not have made them laugh more.
Jack Gantos, winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal and author of some 40 books, including those featuring Rotten Ralph (“the word’s favorite fractious feline”), had a rollicking author’s visit with third-graders in the Lower School Tuesday morning. Gantos was scheduled to speak to first-through-fifth-graders in the Curtis Media Center while on a visit to Atlanta from his home in Boston.
He won the Newbery Medal this year for his book, "Dead End in Norvelt."
Gantos, who has had some 45 books published for readers of all ages, used humorous stories from his own childhood to entertain students on Tuesday. His writing tips, however, were serious.
Begin with a setting, situation and a structure for your book, he advised them. Add action and a crisis, include a resolution, and create a double ending—a physical ending as well as an emotional one “in which the story connects to the reader.”
During the course of the story, characters should also change, Gantos emphasized. “Do you ask a librarian, ‘Can you direct me to a book where nothing really happens?’ No! When the characters feel, you feel and you become them for a time. That’s what we love in literature.”
Other tips: do organized drafts, don’t skimp on details, and pay attention to dialogue. “Make your characters really speak,” Gantos said. “Nothing brings a character to life like dialogue.”
Then, in the last draft, “take out all the words that don’t count. How many ‘likes’ do you need in a story?” he asked. “Maybe one.”
For story ideas, Gantos—who still keeps a journal, himself, and writes his stories longhand—told students to draw from their own lives. “You have to believe that the good stuff is happening to you.”
Jack Gantos’ most notable works include: "Hole in My Life," a memoir that won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert honors; "Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key," a National Book Award Finalist; and "Joey Pigza Loses Control," a Newbery Honor book. "Dead End in Norvelt" is the story of "an incredible two months for a boy named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation adventure are suddenly ruined when he is grounded by hisfeuding parents for what seems like forever," according to the author’s website.
Rotten Ralph is among Gantos most memorable characters. “Rotten Ralph has been entertaining millions of readers with his bad behavior since his first picture-book escapade was published in 1976,” according to Farrar Straus Giroux publishers. Ralph is based on a real-life rotten cat named Carew Jack Gantos knew when he was in college.
The Newbery Medal was named for 18th-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.