Livingston, NJ—Hundreds of children and their parents and grandparents crowded into the Livingston Library on Friday, May 7-- many with their own books in hand to meet children’s book author, Dan Gutman, and to enjoy a book-signing event.
I am thrilled with the turnout and overwhelming support for Dan Gutman," said Gina Vaccaro, the Children's Librarian in Livingston.
"It is always exciting for a child to meet an author--especially one so well loved," she added.
“Dan Gutman’s books are so engaging and have motivated my kids to learn to read,” said Andrea Lieberman, of Livingston. “He is the “rock star” of the youth book market,” she added.
Jacob Shapiro, 9, of West Orange, who puts Ray and Me and the Homework Machine on his short list of favorites, said that he was, “very excited to meet a famous celebrity.”
“It is really cool that he is an author, and has written so many book series,” said Hannah Lancman, 9 ½.
“I am going to get my own signed copy of a book, said a proud Jordyn Lowy, 7.
“I love Dan Gutman’s books because we read together—sometimes me to her, and sometimes she tries to read to me, and together, we can relate to the stories,” said mom, Barbara Ann Lowy.
Fan, Louis Savastano, 8, stated, “I read these books a lot and they are my favorites.”
Marc Lewin, 6, said that AJ is his favorite character because he is funny.
His mom, Adrienne Lewin said, “I think Gutman is terrific because he got my son, who has just started to read, to be really excited about reading.”
Budding writer Ashley Scheichet, 10, of Livingston was bursting with excitement because she had an interview scheduled with Gutman for after the event. Prepared with her own business card, and two pages of typed questions, she was set to interview the author as a contest entry, due June 14, for Time for Kids magazine.
“The magazine is looking for kid reporters,” said mom, Susan Scheichert.
“I am excited and not nervous,” said Ashley, who also indicated her predilection for possibly becoming a weather girl on TV one day.
“I think this is awesome and I am so proud that she is doing what she wants to do,” added Susan.
The doors to the auditorium opened and everyone went inside. The children then listened in awe as Gutman explained his path toward becoming an author, and how he comes up with the titles, character names and subjects of his books, as well as what he has coming out next— Dr. Nicholas Is Ridiculous and My Weird Writing Tips are both due to hit book shelves on June 25.
Gutman entertained as he spoke and hosted a few engaging contests along the way. Gutman also explained the publishing process in youthful “layman’s terms” and managed to leave the audience with some profound inspiration—“don’t give up,” which was imparted via an animated and interactive discussion regarding how long it took for him to publish Honus & Me, the first book of the popular Baseball Card series.
“I knew a lot of kids collected baseball cards and thought using a card to go back in time would make a great story,” said Gutman. “But what card to use?” he said he pondered.
“I first thought about going with an obvious player like Babe Ruth, but chose to instead write about the person on the most valuable baseball card in the world—Honus Wagner, whose 1909 card was worth $2 million dollars.”
Gutman then outlined his creative process saying that he did some research on Wagner, and spent six months writing the book. “I thought this was my 'masterpiece’ and I excitedly sent it off to be published,” he stated.
“And guess what?” he asked. “They rejected it.”
“Now, I want you to know that even someone like me, who has already been published, can still get rejected,” he told the audience.
Gutman said that because he really thought it was a great story he persevered and sent it to the next publisher, who wrote back saying they “didn’t really think that kids would find it as fascinating as adults.”
“Did I give up?” he asked.
“No!” shouted the audience.
This give-and-take bantering exchange continued as Gutman recounted all ten written rejections, over a period of two years, until he received "the phone call” from Harper Collins, saying they wanted to publish the book.
“They waste no time writing when they like your book—they call,” added Gutman with a laugh.
Next, Gutman explained that getting the approval was just the start of the publishing process. He said that then he had to work with an editor and basically “rewrite the book,” until it was “perfect and ready to be published.”
“Do you know how when you write a paper for school and you think it is perfect, and then your teacher writes all over it and tells you what you did wrong, and what to change?” asked Gutman.
“Well, don’t get mad,” he said. “The teacher is just trying to help you make your writing better. Your teacher is just like my editor.”
Gutman then explained the cover creation process, by demonstrating how "publishing is collaborative and that you don’t always get your way."
“I made a rough cover mock-up with a title I liked, a picture of the Honus baseball card, and a photo of my nephew and then gave it to the publisher,” he added. “To my surprise, they sent back a professional one that looked very much like mine and I was pleased,” he stated.
“Now, that image was used for the hard cover book,” he said. “When they made the soft cover for the book, they made a change—they used a different, forward-facing picture therefore removing my nephew’s picture from the cover,” he said. “I wasn’t happy, and I still prefer the other cover, but sometimes you can’t have everything you want,” he stated.
Next, he described the feeling of book publishing accomplishment.
“Finally, a long time later, I received the very first copy of my book in the mail,” said Gutman, “and I thought wow, all of this came from a few simple words written down on a piece of paper one day.”
Gutman said that the publisher then asked him to write another, and then another book in the Baseball Card series, which now totals 11 books, and is still expanding.
Through this discussion, Gutman imparted ideas of inspiration, perseverance, and team work—but most of all, he inspired a whole new generation of people to be true to themselves, never give up and reach for the stars.
“I hope in your lives you don’t quit because you never know what will happen,” said Gutman, who has written 109 books.
The discussion then turned to Gutman’s popular My Weird School series, which he says he got the idea for when his daughter, Emma, was in second grade and reading the Junie B. Jones book series.
“I thought there should be a book for boys like it,” said Gutman.
Next, he explained how he got the names for the teachers—Andrea was named after a “smarty-pants, know-it-all” girl he knew from grade school in Newark, NJ; AJ was named after one of Gutman's son's friends; and the other teachers were named to rhyme with words meaning “crazy,” and later for other like adjectives.
Then the question and answer segment began.
“Are you going to start a whole new 'Weird' series?” asked a child in the crowd.
“Why, three aren’t enough?” he asked with a chuckle.
“How do you get the dialogue to sound like a child is actually speaking?” asked a parent.
“Because I have the brain of a ten year old,” he added with a smile.
“Why does Ryan eat everything,” asked another fan.
“He does it because it is funny,” said Gutman, which was the most popular reason espoused by the children in attendance when asked why they read Gutman’s books in the first place.
Like minds think alike.
A funny moment then occurred when Gutman suddenly noticed that not only was Josh Lancman, 7 1/2, standing up right next to him, but that Josh had “all of the answers.”
Gutman promptly handed Lancman the microphone, and the lad took over answering an audience question for a minute or so.
“I was really excited to meet Dan Gutman because I have read almost all of his books, I take them out of the library at school and in town, and I am hoping my mom will buy me some today,” said Lancman when asked about his experience in the limelight.”
Gutman then began asking his own questions and rewarding children who answered correctly with candy.
“Why did grownups think up school?” he asked.
“So they wouldn’t have to pay babysitters anymore,” answered a knowing fan.
“What is Miss Daisy’s favorite candy?” he asked.
“Bonbons,” said an attendee.
“According to AJ, what do grown-ups do when they are mad?” he asked.
“They put their hands on their hips,” quipped another knowing reader.
It was clear the audience had retained what they read because they answered most, if not all, of Gutman’s questions correctly.
Gutman then drew a bunch of names from a jar and awarded a few children with free books.
Next, he drew the name Ethan Kooper, 6, from the jar and awarded him with a personally-drawn picture of AJ, which Gutman had drawn earlier to illustrate why he works with an artist to draw the pictures in his books. Gutman said, “I am not an artist.”
When asked what he thought of AJ, Kooper, said that AJ was his favorite character because he liked eating junk food.
“I think these books are great because they keep kids reading as they get older,” said mom, Jessica Kooper. “My son can’t put them down.”
Chelsea McCormack’s name was drawn next, and now her name will appear in the next Baseball Card book called, Bobby and Me.
“I am so excited,” said Chelsea when asked about having her name in a book for infamy.
After the discussion, there was a mad rush to the book signing table where Gutman good-naturedly signed books and posed for photos.
Gutman was also in for a few treats.
Scott Tanker, 9, of North Caldwell showed Gutman a creative book report he had done as a pillow, on “Mr. Kraft is Daft,” before asking the author to sign it.
Molly Levine, 8, showed Gutman a picture she had drawn of the lunch lady, Mrs. LaGrange and Gutman signed that as well.
Jamie Levitt, 7, and her mom told Gutman that his book was the very first chapter book Jamie had read by herself.
Gutman said he was glad to hear that.
One thing different from Dan Gutman and all of the teachers that headline his books is that there isn’t a “suitable” rhyming adjective name for Gutman along the lines of say Miss. Daisy is Crazy, or Coach Hyatt is a Riot, which are the titles of a few of the books in his popular My Weird School book series. However, if one only thinks through the first few letters of the alphabet, and they are anywhere from ages 6-10, they might come up with one that will make them giggle almost as much as Gutman’s books make them laugh with every turn of the page.
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