Author Spotlight: Mike Allegra
April 19, 2019
Today we are excited to feature picture book and chapter book author Mike Allegra and his new picture book, SCAMPERS THINKS LIKE A SCIENTIST, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel (Dawn Publications Mar. 1 2019). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Stuff about myself. Okay, let me think…
I want to be a banjo player, but I’m beyond terrible. I can juggle balls, but not pins. I aced high school algebra, but have yet to find a use for it in real life. I like broccoli, but asparagus makes me throw up in my mouth a little. I know that rodents can be destructive, but they’re way too cute for me not to love them unconditionally.
As for my career, I’ve been writing non-stop since I was five. That was when I discovered my parents’ electric typewriter—and what a wonderful, banging, thwacking, clattering contraption it was. I was enchanted. I was so enchanted that I still work with a typewriter from time to time.
I’ve published a range of different things over the years, newspaper articles, fiction and non-fiction magazine stories, plays, personal essays…but nothing beats writing for kids. Thinking like a kid is such an imaginative and joyful way to exercise one’s writing muscles.
Congrats on your latest book, SCAMPERS THINKS LIKE A SCIENTIST. Tell us about it. What inspired you?
Thanks! I’m not gonna lie to you. I’m really giddy about this one.
SCAMPERS started with a title—but it wasn’t the title the book has now. It was SCAMPERS AND THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD. I thought the juxtaposition of a cutesy-poo name like Scampers with something important like the scientific method was funny. No one else found it funny, but I did. So for the longest time all I had was that title poking around in the back of my brain. I wasn’t in a rush to find a manuscript to attach to it—I had other stories I was working on—but that title was always there. Loitering. Waiting.
Fast-forward two years. I was attending an educational conference for the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, half listening to a lecture about alumni magazines, when the entire SCAMPERS story hit me upside the head.
I ran—I literally ran—out of the lecture hall, dashed up to my hotel room, and spent the rest of the night writing. In that one night, all the key components of the story revealed themselves: my incurably curious mouse protagonist (Scampers), her skeptical foil (Nibbles), her hypothesis about a suspicious owl in the vegetable garden, and her experiments to figure out if this owl was truly a threat.
I spent a very long time after that night rewriting, refining, and sharpening the manuscript. But that night was the closest I’ve ever come to a creative epiphany. All that was missing was the Hallelujah Chorus.
You write both chapter books and picture books. What makes you decide to write a story in one form or the other?
It depends on the story that pops into my head. SCAMPERS is a book with sharply defined characters who are pursuing a straightforward objective. It was perfect story for a 400-word, 32-page book. I also just loved the challenge of finding a fun, funny, and exciting way to explain the scientific method to little kids.
When I first read the book to a class of kindergartners, I couldn’t have been happier with their response. The five year olds grasped the ideas I was throwing out there. And they were laughing like crazy! Getting people to laugh and think at the same time is the greatest feeling in the world.
That said, I do love telling longer stories. So when Macmillan offered me a six-volume PRINCE NOT-SO CHARMING chapter book series, I was ecstatic. I had more of an opportunity to delve into each character’s personality and tell more complicated, twistier tales. The stories could (and did) wander off onto funny tangents. The stories could (and did) contain little Easter eggs that referenced other books in the series. And I could (and did) do running gags; in Book One of PRINCE NOT-SO CHARMING I started a running gag about an angry horse that doesn’t pay off until Book Four.
What new projects are you working on?
Right now I’m working on a chapter book series for ABDO Publishing about a cantankerous kid inventor named Kimmie Tuttle. The books should be available in late 2021. In each story, Kimmie will be wrestling with with a typical kid problem—things like repairing an alien spacecraft, or fitting dentures for a toothless monster, or building an army of robots. You know, real slice-of-life stuff.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
When I was a teenager, I asked that question to Mary Higgins Clark. All she said was, “Keep writing.” At the time, her response annoyed me. I thought she was being flippant. I assumed she had plenty of good advice that she was unwilling to share.
But now that I’ve carved out a writing career for myself, I can see that Mary Higgins Clark’s advice is pretty much the only advice one writer can give another.
Keep writing. Keep writing whenever you can. Keep writing even when you’d rather do something else. Keep writing even if your writing is going badly. Keep writing even if you’re really busy. Keep writing after you send your manuscript to a publisher. Keep writing once the rejections start coming in. Keep writing even when common sense tells you to stop.
I’ve seen so many writers—writers far more talented that I—fail because they allowed themselves to give up. Don’t be that writer. Keep going. Keep writing. That’s the only way.
What is something most people don't know about you?
I went to college for graphic design. Before I reached the end of my freshman year, I knew in my heart I was pursuing the wrong career, but I didn’t want to stay in college for more than four years, so I stuck with the major I had and hoped for the best.
After I graduated, I worked for the next five years as a graphic designer. And, boy, was I miserable.
So, at age 27, I started over. I quit my design job. I took a huge pay cut and became a weekly newspaper staff writer. I wrote news all day and, once I got home, I hunted for freelance writing gigs. After spending some time freelancing, I wrote for me.
I’m not gonna put rose-colored glasses on it; doing what I did was not an easy or profitable way to build a career—not by a long shot—but for the first time in my life, I truly felt alive. It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s true.
Where can people find you online?
My blog can be found at www.mikeallegra.com. And I’m always hap-hap-happy to accept your friend request at www.facebook.com/mike.allegra.
So stop by and say hello; I’ll serve cake.a Rafflecopter giveaway
is the author of the picture books Sarah Gives Thanks (Albert Whitman & Company, 2012), Everybody’s Favorite Book (Macmillan, 2018), and Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist (Dawn, 2019). He also not-so secretly pens the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series (Macmillan, 2018-19, pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). He received an Independent Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, won the 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest, and received a 2019 Creative Access Fellowship. In January, he giddily signed a deal to write a new chapter book series, Kimmie Tuttle (ABDO, 2021). You should check out his blog at www.mikeallegra.comand befriend him at www.facebook.com/mike.allegra.