Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Interview with Phil Bildner, author of A Whole New Ballgame

A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner comes out today. I cannot tell you how excited I am for this book. Last spring I was lucky enough to receive an ARC. After book talking it to my three fifth grade classes, I had a waiting list seven kids deep...in each class. 

This book follows the story of Rip and Red as they begin fifth grade together. Red is on the autism spectrum and Rip, his best friend, knows how to calm him down when needed. Boy is it needed at the start of their school year. Many curve balls are thrown their way. They have a new teacher, Mr. Acevedo instead of Mrs. Hamburger like was planned. Mr. Acevedo has earrings, tattoos, believes in something called reading and writing workshop, and is just a bit goofy. I love him. 

This book speaks to my students. You can tell Phil knows kids, knows what makes them tick, and knows what good teaching looks like. There is so much to love about this book. 

I was super excited to interview Phil and find out a little more about this amazing book. Check out the interview below.

What inspired A Whole New Ballgame?

One thing I always tell kids – or anyone – is that you write about what you know and you write about what you love. If you write about what you know and write about what you love, and you’re passionate about it, it’s going to come through in your writing.

A Whole New Ballgame is all about school and sports and friendships and community and inclusion. When it comes to kids, those are my passions.

On a more micro level, basketball has always been my favorite sport. But up until now, I’ve only written books about other sports – baseball, football, and soccer. Finally writing a basketball story – a basketball series -- has been super exciting.

One area my students struggle in writing fiction is in regard to characters.
In reading your book, I could clearly see my students in the characters, they seemed real. What advice would you give my students on developing characters that don’t seem to be flat?

Developing characters can be challenging, but every student is capable of creating multi-layered characters that seem real…if you’re willing to put in a little work. Here are two things to try: First, people watch. Observe people and make up stories about them. You can be silly or serious or bizarre, but no matter what you decide, try to be as specific as possible. Come up with rich details to describe the person you’re observing.

The second thing I suggest – and this is something I’ve been doing recently -- is create thought bubbles. Look at a photograph of a person or study a person while people watching and come up with their thought bubbles. Let your imagination run wild. What is that person thinking? Create his or her internal dialogue.

My students are always curious about the writing process. Can you tell us about yours?

I was trying to think of the one word that best describes my writing process, and the word I keep coming back to is scattered. My process is all over the place!

More often than not, my process begins in my journal, my writer’s notebook. I take it with me wherever I go because I never know when I’m going to have an idea or be inspired. At home, I have stacks and stacks of writer’s notebooks. I keep them all, and I love thumbing through them from time to time. Every so often, I’ll read something I wrote from years ago and be like, “wow, that’s pretty good.” Or I’ll read something else and think, “dag, Phil, what were you thinking?”

After I write in my journal, I move the ideas to my computer. Then it’s all about revising, revising, and more revising.

For instance, right now, I’m working on this middle grade novel. Over the weekend, I printed out the first seventy pages to read out loud and mark up. Let me tell you, the next time I print out the first seventy pages, it’s going to look nothing like what I printed out previously.

That goes right along with something I always tell kids: The real writing takes place during the rewriting.

What advice would you have for budding writers?

The one piece of advice I would give to budding writers: Read! Read whatever you want. The things that interest you most – gymnastics, Minecraft, cooking, basketball, whatever – read about them as much as you possibly can. The more you read, the more comfortable you become with words. The more comfortable you become with words, the better your writing.

And what’s next for Rip, Red, and Mr. Acevedo?

I’m so glad you asked! Right now, we’re planning on four books in the Rip and Red series. The second one is called “Rookie of the Year.” It comes out next fall. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will tease one of the storylines: A new kid joins the Clifton United basketball team, and she is as good a ballplayer as Rip and… well, stay tuned!