ONE-THIRD NERD by Gennifer Choldenko, (Illustrations) Ceulemans -- A funny, fast-paced, and heartfelt story from the Newbery Honor-winning author of the Al Capone series. ***Excerpt -- Q&A with the Author -- Spotlight -- Giveaway***
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Pub. Date: January 29, 2019
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
A funny, fast-paced, and heartfelt story from the Newbery Honor-winning author of the
Al Capone series.
Recently, Cupcake has a problem--she's peeing in the house. The kids need to make enough money to take her to the vet before their landlord upstairs finds out. And Mom and Dad have said if Cupcake doesn't stop, they will find her a new home. But the kids will never let Cupcake go. Can they save her?
Congrats on the upcoming release of One-Third Nerd. In another interview, you called it your funniest book yet.
1) How would you describe your sense of humor?
My sense of humor is quirky and offbeat. I’m not a joke teller. I’m not a pun master. My humor comes out of my characters.
2) Do you have any young (kid) beta readers or do you just naturally "get" middle grade humor?
I do have beta kid readers and I do naturally “get” middle grade humor as I am basically eleven. That said, I’m often surprised about what lands. Sometimes things I do not think are funny, the kids find hilarious and vice a versa.
One-Third Nerd deals with some heavy topics like divorce and financial stress.
3) How does humor help you connect deeper storylines with kids?
I like funny “real”. And funny “real” is a mash up of real life problems and humor. I remember hearing the immensely talented humorist Paula Danziger speak about humor once. She said you should underline all the sad parts in a manuscript in yellow and all the funny parts in green and when you are done the green and the yellow should be pretty well balanced.
4) I read on Publisher's Weekly that you traveled to Thailand to spend time with elephants for a middle-grade historical fiction novel.
When you're traveling for a book, do you jot down notes about anything and everything? Or are you razor-focused on specific things?
I went to Thailand to spend time with elephants in elephant sanctuaries. It was a pretty specific research topic. I took notes about all things elephant. So I guess I am laser-focused. But traveling is an excellent way to get new ideas, because it is disorienting and it stimulates your senses in new ways. I love writing on planes and in airports – in that netherworld where you are not firmly anchored to any world but the one you are creating in your head.
4) Do you keep a notepad in your purse or by your bedside for keeping track of ideas?
I do have a notepad in my purse and on my bedside table. I get some of my best ideas in the middle of the night. Insomnia is a writer’s best friend.
5) Do you have any completed novels that you haven't been able to sell? Do you stick them in a drawer for another time?
The first two novels I wrote are in a drawer. And that is a blessing to me, to my career, and to the reading public. It takes time to hone your skills as a novelist. At least, it did for me. Now I’m lucky enough to be able to sell novels before I write them. So I don’t have any complete novels in my drawer. What I have is lots of nonfiction research books on my shelves -- books bought to research novels I decided not to write.
6) How'd you originally connect with your agent? Any advice for aspiring authors?
The answer to both those questions is: SCBWI. (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)
I got my agent through SCBWI. I wasn’t in the market for an agent when I heard a heavyweight agent speak at the SCBWI conference in LA. She made a big impression on me. Two years later when I was looking for an agent, I wrote to her. I had taken very careful notes about her presentation. And I spent a long time on the letter. At the end of it I said I was probably too small of a fish for her. She wrote me back immediately. She said I was too small of a fish for her. But her assistant had begun to take on a few of her own clients and she would pass my work on to her. Her assistant took me on because she fell in love with a secondary character in a novel I had written. (A novel which never got published by the way.) That was 21 years ago. I still have that same agent. She is the world’s best – and a VP at the agency, now.
My advice to new writers: go to SCBWI conferences. Get your manuscripts critiqued there. Try out crit groups – they aren’t for everybody, but the right critique group at the right time in your career can be extremely helpful. Read the best writers. Pay attention to who edits the books you love. Take a public speaking class or go to toastmasters. Be an active part of the book community even before you get published.
Keep scrolling to read an excerpt from One Third Nerd.
ExcerptTorpse the Corpse
When we get back from walking Cupcake, Dakota has her head in the refrigerator. “Who messed with yesterday’s sample?” she shouts.
“Why’d you put that in the fridge? Dodge almost drank it,” I whisper.
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life cleaning up dog pee?” Dakota wants to know.
“No. But, Dakota, that’s gross. Besides, don’t you have to have a healthy sample? To compare, you know, with what’s in her pee now?” I ask.
“I have one.”
“You took a sample before she got sick?” Dakota leans in.
“I have samples from everyone.”
This is the problem with asking Dakota questions. You really don’t want to hear the answers.
“Why?” I ask.
“You have to have a baseline,” she explains.
“But how would you know to get a baseline?”
“I read, Liam. Don’t you read?”
I close the refrigerator carefully, because otherwise the door comes off the hinges and squashes your toe. “How did you collect them?”
“We’re not supposed to flush every time. If it’s yellow, leave it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
“Ew.” I make a face. “Where do you keep the samples?”
“You saw where I keep them: the refrigerator.”
“But Mom cleans it out every week.” I make a pouch with my shirt and load in kale chips. They taste like deep-fried tea bags, but Mom says kale will help me grow.
Dakota grins. “I take them out when we bring the grocery bags in and put them back after she’s unloaded everything.”
“Jeez, Dakota, get a life, will you?”
Dodge and I head for my room. She chases after us. “If you’re going to be a scientist, you have to work hard. That’s what Mom says. Can I play?”
“No.” I keep walking.
She dives in front of me. “There’s something important I have to say.”
I roll my eyes.
“Lawrence Hall of Science has job openings. I saw on their website. I could make adult-size money.”
“They aren’t looking for eight-year-olds who only have time at recess.”
“You can’t refuse to hire someone because of their age. That’s age re-crim-ination, Crash said. I applied already, but they haven’t gotten back to me yet.”
“I’ll bet,” I say.
“Liam, look!” She points out the window to the low gray clouds. “El Niño is coming. We can’t leave Cupcake out in the rain, and if we bring her in, she’ll pee on the rugs.”
Dakota’s right. “You figured out anything with your stupid samples?”
She shakes her head. “I may need to consult a veterinarian.”
We took Cupcake to the vet a few months ago because she had an even grosser problem: diarrhea. We got medicine for it, which worked. But the visit cost $331, with the tests and the medicine and everything. And then she started to pee a lot. Mom called the vet, who said we needed to take Cupcake to the veterinary school at UC Davis for further study, because she didn’t know what the problem was. Mom asked her how much UC Davis would cost. The vet said, “Three thousand dollars. Maybe.”
“We could ask Dad,” Dakota suggests.
My father lives across town. He’ll be by today, because on Tuesdays he brings over dinner in a Pyrex dish and leaves it on the doorstep. It will be something yummy, like barbeque ribs or homemade macaroni and cheese. My dad’s mac and cheese is so good that Dakota mailed some to the President.
She never heard back from the White House, though. Big surprise.
Dad doesn’t come until five, but today Dakota goes out early to wait for him. She finishes her homework and then does extra work. Her teacher, Mrs. Johnson, doesn’t give assignments for extra credit, so she has to make up her own. It’s pretty sad.
Mom doesn’t like us hanging around outside, but there’s no telling Dakota that. She’s too young to understand what you’re supposed to be afraid of. Besides, she’s got Cupcake with her.
In my room, I close the door and Dodge and I take turns with the game controller. That’s the one good thing about being the only boy in an apartment full of girls. I get my own room. Izzy and Dakota have to share.
My room is tan and blue and has posters of Star Wars and Bigfoot, plus a life-size cardboard Roger Federer that Izzy and Dakota are forbidden to ever touch.
Mom sleeps in the living room, since she goes to bed later than everyone else.
Just as Dodge gets to level 25, we hear the explosion.
Cupcake barks. I run outside.
“Did you hear that?” Dakota asks, her voice thick, her hands covered with watermelon. She taps her phone, which used to be my phone. “The website said the exploding watermelon experiment is hard to do. I did it and I got it on video.” She grins.
“We heard. Everybody in the whole state heard, including Torpse without his hearing aids.” I survey the mess. Pieces of red watermelon flesh slop down the windows and hang from the stairs; juice puddles on the doormat.
“Torpse isn’t home. Today is his yoga class, I think.”
I get the mop and hand it to her. You wouldn’t believe what a mess an exploding watermelon makes. “See,” Dakota says, “you put all these thick rubber bands around the center and that causes some kind of pressure that makes it explode.”
“I hope you’re right about Torpse,” I say.
Mom said we’re not supposed to call him Torpse the Corpse because then Izzy starts up with it. Last week she said, “Hello, Mr. Torpse the Corpse.” And then she hugged him. Luckily, Izzy doesn’t speak clearly, so Torpse didn’t catch what she said.
“I’m always right,” Dakota says as she clicks on the explosion video. Cupcake curls up at Dakota’s feet as Dodge and I lean in to watch.
“Wow,” Dodge says. “Play it again.”
Just as Dakota pushes play, there are footsteps up above.
“Daddy!” Dakota grabs the phone and starts up the stairs. “Oh.” Her voice gets funny, like she swallowed a balloon’s worth of helium.
“Uh-oh, Torpse!” I whisper.
But when the man comes down the stairs, he isn’t Torpse.
He’s a policeman.
Excerpt copyright © 2019 by Gennifer Choldenko. Published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Choldenko is best known for her Tales from Alcatraz series, which has sold more than 2 million copies. Book #1: Al Capone Does My Shirts was a Newbery Honor Book and the recipient of twenty other awards. Book #4: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve is due out in 2018. BookPage said of her most recent novel, Chasing Secrets: “Choldenko’s ability to research obscure yet intriguing topics is uncanny, and as she did with the popular Al Capone trilogy she turns a tough topic into a high interest read … a compelling work of historical fiction.” Gennifer lives with her loyal husband and naughty dog in the San Francisco Bay Area.
3 winners will receive a finished copy of ONE-THIRD NERD, US Only.
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