By Bianca Schulze, The Children’s Book Review
Published: October 1, 2011
Derek is an eleven-year-old ghost who haunts the classrooms and hallways of Scary School, writing down all the spine-tingling often hilarious things that go on there. Despite his ghostly state, Derek still enjoys reading comic books and hopes to one day become a master ninja. If that doesn’t work out, he will continue to share the fun of this very special, very secret school, so all kids can experience the scariest school on earth. Derek the Ghost communicates through the first-time ghost whisperer Derek Taylor Kent, who is a writer and performer in Los Angeles, California.
TCBR: I read that you started writing children’s books at the age of 15. What or who inspired you to do so?
Derek the Ghost: Since I was able to write at the age of seven, I loved writing stories. I also loved words, so I was the weird kid who would read the dictionary during reading time in class. By the time I was ten I started writing funny poems and skits and I started my first book of funny poetry, which continues up till this day. As I was writing poems constantly, I always wanted to take it to the next or learn something new once I felt I had gotten good a particular form. By the time I was 15, I thought that the next step would be to write a full-length story in poetic form. At that time I got somewhat obsessed with Dr. Seuss, so I wanted to see if I could write in the Seussian style but also make it a epic fantasy book series I had in mind. For about 10 years I worked on this epic fantasy series with the goal of having my mother (a well-known artist) illustrate them. Unfortunately, they art could never get finished, so when I was 26, I put aside maybe a dozen illustrated children’s books I had written and decided to focus on a novel where I wouldn’t be dependent on illustrations. At that time was when “Harry Potter” was first getting being, and a very similar thing happened to me as did with Dr. Seuss where I became a bit obsessed with it and wanted to test myself to see if I could write something similar. That became my first novel, which is now called Rudy and the Beast: Book 1 – My Homework Ate My Dog, which would ultimately transform into a lighter, funnier book at the suggestion of an editor at HarperCollins.
Scary School is your third and newest book. In their review, Book List said: “This is a laugh-out-loud offering that should find a broad and appreciative audience among boys and girls alike.” What else can you tell us about your book? How scary is Scary School?
Ha-ha. Well, I guess how scary it is depends on how squeamish you are. There are some six-year-olds who love it and say it wasn’t too scary, but my mom (who’s in her 60s) says she can’t read it at night because she gets too scared! I certainly wouldn’t call it a horror book. It’s about 70% comedy and 30% horror (and horror is Goosebumps-style horror). In fact, it’s much more of a parody of the whole horror trend. I tried my best to have three laugh-out-loud moments on every page to soften the more frightening aspects. At the same time, I didn’t want the readers to feel coddled and safe. I want them to be on edge that anything can happen at Scary School and that nobody is truly safe, which I think adds to the humor of the book because of the shock value.
I’m very happy that it’s appealing to both boys and girls. I made a conscious effort to try have an equal number of strong, well-developed characters of both genders who are experiencing things that every boy and girl experiences during those scary childhood years. It’s just that here everything happens in a much more heightened setting with monsters everywhere. But, boys and girls are still stressing about performing well on the sports teams, dealing with crushes, trying to fit in, deal with loneliness, and get good grades.
In “a school where monsters and normal kids tread the halls together and just making it to lunch with all your limbs intact is considered a good day,” what should readers expect from a bad day at Scary School?
Well, I guess the worst-case scenario is a student might misbehave in class, and if the teacher is in a bad-mood (as dragon teachers often are) that students will probably end up as lunch. But most of the time, a student can manage to find a way to come back to life, either as a zombie, a vampire, or a ghost. In fact, dying is never an excuse for missing a class at Scary School!
You wrote this book for middle graders (ages 7-12). You’ve said that it “teaches kids to find laughter in fear, to stretch their imaginations, and to discover that their smarts will always prevail over bullies.” What was it that inspired you to write this particular story?
I guess I was inspired to write this story because I had some more tough times at school, especially when I started at a new school and didn’t know anybody. Just a normal day can be the scariest thing in the world when there are big kids pushing you around, mean kids making fun of you, and homework and tests that can crush your intellectual confidence. With both Rudy and the Beast and Scary School, the focus is on a new kid at school who’s going through all those challenges, so I’m really trying to help every kid out there going through that or who will soon go through that. I found that a good way to make kids feel better is to teach them to put things into perspective. That’s what Scary School does. It tells the kids: You’re getting bullied? That’s no fun. But at least that bully isn’t a werewolf who might bite your arm off. At least your teacher isn’t a dragon that will eat you if you break a rule.
Which of the characters do you have the most personal connection to?
I feel connected with Petunia because she loves to read and is saddled with probably the heaviest personal challenges of all the characters and has to find a way through. She’s very strange looking, even by Scary School standards, and that’s saying a lot. She’s completely purple from head to foot (which nobody else is) so she gets teased and shunned, especially by the mean girls in class. Plus her hair produces pollen, so bees and wasps constantly surround her. Talk about a barrier to making friends! Anyone who comes close might get stung! More than the other characters, she has to deal with loneliness and finding her place in the world.
Which character do you think children will connect with the most?
From what I’m hearing, every kid is finding a different character to relate to. There are a lot of characters in Scary School, each of whom covers pretty much the entire spectrum of different archetypes, so kids seem to gravitate to the character most similar to them.
Scary School is the beginning of a three book series. Are you working on the second and third books now?
Yes, the second book is finished and the illustrations have just been completed. They look amazing. The third book I’m literally just finishing up as I write this. Plus, there’s a chance you can expect more books from Scary School and maybe even some spin-offs of other wacky schools in this world, like Adventure School, Animal School, and Future School!
Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect?
If you read the Secret Chapter at the end of Scary School book one, which you can only find by going to the website and passing Ms. Fangs’ quiz, you’ll know that the kids of Ms. Fangs’ class are left in a very sticky situation without any means of escape. It will be up to our good friend Petunia and a very strange new teacher to find a way to rescue them. Plus, as a prize for winning the Ghoul Games, the students won a trip to go to Monster Kingdom to meet the Monster King. All I can say is that things do not go as planned, and it will take a miracle for your favorite characters to make it out of there a
Which books from your own childhood have most influenced your life?
The biggest influence for the Scary School series was Wayside School. It was one of my favorite books as a kid. I also remember loving Dr. Doolittle, which was the first time I realized that books could be absolutely hilarious. In terms of the short stories, I was very influenced by Kurt Vonnegut and playwright Martin McDonagh. They were able to create such perfect, poignant, imaginative short stories. Each chapter in Scary School is like a little short story. I was really striving to make them as affective as all my favorite short stories.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Just that I really appreciate all the great support and wonderful feedback I’ve received so far. Derek the Ghost is making the effort to write back to every kid who writes to him through the website, especially those who prove that they have super-brains by beating the Fun and Games section of ScarySchool.com! And if you liked Book 1, books 2 and 3 will take everything to a whole new level.
Add this book to your collection: Scary School
For more information, visit: www.ScarySchool.com
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