Author Spotlight: Jarrett Lerner
July 19, 2019
Today we are excited to feature author-illustrator Jarrett Lerner and his middle-grade novels, ENGINERDS, and REVENGE OF THE ENGINERDS, illustrated by Serge Seidlitz (Aladdin).
Be sure to enter to win a copy of his newest book!
|Cover & interior illustrations © Serge Seidlitz|
Tell us about yourself.
I am an author and illustrator who believes that every kid is bursting with potential and that by making sure they have access to books and are shown the many ways in which reading can improve and enrich their lives, they have a better shot at fulfilling that potential. I try to make sure that everything I do -- whether it's making books or visiting schools or attending conferences or helping organize a project -- somehow furthers that work.
Congrats on your series, ENGINERDS! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
|Cover & interior illustrations © Serge Seidlitz|
EngiNerds is about a group of kids who call themselves the EngiNerds. They're crafty, clever, and creative -- sometimes too much for their own good! Specifically, one of them unleashes a horde of endlessly hungry, dangerously flatulent robots on their unsuspecting town. The story continues in a sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, and I hope to be able to share news soon about the future of the series.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Is there someone out there whose road was short and sweet?! If there is, I haven't met them! I've been drawing and writing since I can remember, and they were always a primary passion of mine. However, it never occurred to me that I could be a maker of books until I was in my 20s. It was then that I really started striving to make a career and life of it. But it took me a while to find my place.
I got an agent pretty quickly, but did so with a YA novel -- which didn't end up selling (something I'm very happy about now!). I wrote lots more YA, and kept hearing back that my characters read "too young." I spent a while trying to "age up" my characters before finally, at long last, realizing that I'm just not a YA author. I think I actually stopped maturing around the age of 9 or 10, and shortly after I embraced this and started writing for kids that age, I started selling books. But getting there took years and years.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? Recent MGs?
Growing up, I was obsessed with Louis Sachar. There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom was one of my favorites, and I still think it's one of the best ever -- it's the perfect blend of humor and heart, and the short chapters were something that really appealed to me as a reader.
Recently, there've been way too many amazing books to name. It's a good time to be a kid lit reader. Two recent reads that really blew me away were Lamar Giles's The Last Last-Day-of-Summer and Jarod Roselló's Red Panda and Moon Bear. I've also read Karina Yan Glaser's Vanderbeekers books several times. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an ARC of the new one, out this September -- The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue -- and it's my favorite yet.
You are active in the kid lit community, from organizing MG Village to #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors. Tell us about these.
The MG Book Village (mgbookvillage.org) is an online hub for all things Middle Grade. Corrina Allen runs her wonderful Books Between podcast out of there, and we've got a weekly Twitter chat, a release date calendar, a book club (run by the authors behind MG at Heart), regular guest posts from authors, cover reveals, reviews from kids, and more. Anyone who wants to share about MG books or issues is welcome to post at the site or host one of our Twitter chats. Get involved! Reach out to me, Corrina, or Kathie MacIsaac, the other member of our team.
#KidsNeedBooks is more of a rallying cry than anything else -- one aimed at helping end book deserts. I use the hashtag to raise awareness about issues relating to book access (and lack thereof!) and host giveaways. In the past year and a half or so, a couple thousand books have been given away to educators, librarians, and KIDS under the #KidsNeedBooks banner.
#KidsNeedMentors is a program that pairs kids' educators with kids' book creators for the duration of a school year. The pairs work together to design experiences for an educator's particular classroom and group of kids. The program was launched last year by Kristen Picone, Kristin Crouch, Ann Braden, and myself, and it took off in a way that we could never have expected. This upcoming year, we've got about 400 creators participating, and our educator slots filled up in 30 minutes! Doing all the matchmaking is a tremendous undertaking -- like the world's most complicated puzzle! -- but seeing what participants make of it, witnessing the impact it has on the thousands of kids involved, makes it all so, so worth it.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read. Stay on top of what's coming out. Pay attention to what kids are going wild for. Subscribe to the Publishers Weekly newsletters and read about the deals that are being made -- who's buying what books, who's selling them. The more you know about what's going on, the better equipped you are to be a part of it all, and to make a contribution to it. Not doing so is like trying to take part in a conversation without listening to what anyone else is saying.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I get this question a lot, and I fear I have run out of interesting tidbits to share about myself. Here's a potentially useful thing I can share, though: I start all my book projects longhand, and for any given book, I'll often use the same sorts of materials that I regularly used when I was the age of my target audience. So I've got picture book manuscripts done in crayon and washable marker. I work on novels in composition notebooks or on the back of recycled printer paper. Long ago I discovered that the materials I create with play a large role in what I end up creating, and I do my best to use that to my advantage.
Where can people find you online?
I'm on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner, on Instagram at @jarrettlerner, and also at www.jarrettlerner.com. Come say hi!
Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, as well as the author of the forthcoming Geeger the Robot early chapter book series and the author-illustrator of the Hunger Heroes graphic novel (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors programs. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com, on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner, and on Instragram at @jarrettlerner. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat.