Interview by Piranha T. and Super Kitty
Alan Gratz is the author of many highly acclaimed middle-grade novels which discuss topics not often seen in books for this readership. Refugee, which tells the story of three refugees from different countries, in different times, spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list and received numerous awards. Ban this Book, which we interviewed him especially about, is about fourth grader Amy Anne Ollinger’s plan to fight back when her favorite book is banned from the school library. We were thrilled to get the chance to interview him about his books for this month’s feature.
RapunzelReads: What inspired Ban this Book?
Alan Gratz: A lot of people ask me if I've ever had one of my books challenged or banned, if perhaps that's why I wrote this book. My answer is no, I haven't had a book banned--that I know of! That's the thing--the American Library Association says that something like 350 books were challenged or banned last year, but that's only the challenges they know about. They estimate another 95% of book challenges and bannings go UNreported. That's thousands of books that disappear off library shelves every year! Is one of my books one of those? Perhaps! Regardless, that's why I wanted to write this book--to call attention to the book challenges and bannings that still happen every year.
RR: Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
AG: Read a lot, write a lot, and keep an idea book! An idea book isn't where you write your stories--it's where you write down all your great IDEAS for stories. And where you also write down writing advice you get from authors and teachers, and lines from poems and books that you like, as inspiration. I've been keeping idea books since college, and they are treasures! I go back to them all the time looking for ideas and writing advice.
RR: Many of your books involve topics which aren't often discussed in middle-grade books, such as censorship (Ban this Book) and refugees (Refugee). What are your thoughts about writing about these topics? Is it challenging?
AG: Yes, it's hard to write about difficult topics, especially for young readers. But I never talk down to my readers or treat you like little kids, and I don't shy away from the hard stuff. About the only thing I do differently than if I were writing books like this for adults is that I don't put in the gory details. I tell you the truth about what happens, but I let you fill in as many details as you're comfortable with. So many kids have questions about the world though, and I think one of the safest places to find answers is in the pages of a book!
RR: What is your favorite thing about being an author?
AG: Finishing books! :-) And seeing people read and enjoy the finished products. :-)
RR: What books inspired you when you were growing up?
AG: When I was in middle school, I enjoyed The Hobbit, and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and The Phantom Tollbooth. Tuck Everlasting also had a big impact on me. It talked about something really serious--death--in a way that didn't talk down to me, a kid reader. It took me seriously, and didn't give any easy answers. I've tried to do the same with my own books for young readers!