David A. Adler
A few years ago I was at Open School Night for my middle son. His fourth grade teacher was the same one my eldest son had seven years earlier and the same teacher I had sometime in the 1950s. The teacher looked at me, smiled, and then told the roomful of parents, “A long time ago, when I just started teaching, David was in my class.” She smiled again and said, “I went to the principal and asked, ‘What should I do with Adler? He’s always dreaming.’ ‘Leave him alone,’ the principal answered. ‘Maybe one day he’ll be a writer.’”
That’s her story, not mine. But I know I did dream through much of my early school years and I did become a writer.
Dreamers become writers and for me, being a published writer is a dream come true.
I write both fiction and non-fiction.
I begin my fiction with the main character. The story comes later. Of course, since I’ll be spending a lot of time with each main character, why not have him or her be someone I like? Andy Russell is based, loosely, on a beloved member of my family. He’s fun to write about and the boy who inspired the character is even more fun to know. Cam Jansen is based even more loosely on a classmate of mine in the first grade whom we all envied because we thought he had a photographic memory. Now, especially when my children remind me of some promise they said I made, I really envy Cam’s amazing memory. I have really enjoyed writing about Cam Jansen and her many adventures.
For my books of non-fiction I write about subjects I find fascinating. My first biography was Our Golda: The Life of Golda Meir. To research that book, I bought a 1905 set of encyclopedia. Those books told me what each of the places Golda Meir lived in were like when she lived there.
I’ve written many other biographies, including books about Martin Luther King, Jr; George Washington; Abraham Lincoln; Helen Keller; Harriet Tubman; Anne Frank; and many others in my Picture Book Biography series.
I’ve been a Yankee and a Lou Gehrig fan for decades so I wrote Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man. It’s more the story of his great courage than his baseball playing. Children face all sorts of challenges and it’s my hope that some will be inspired by the courage of Lou Gehrig. I am working now on another book about a courageous man, Janusz Korczak.
My book One Yellow Daffodil is fiction, too, but it’s based on scores of interviews I did with Holocaust survivors for my books We Remember the Holocaust, Child of the Warsaw Ghetto, The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm, and Hiding from the Nazis. The stories I heard were compelling. One Yellow Daffodil is both a look to the past and to the future, and expresses my belief in the great spirit and strength of our children.
I love math and was a math teacher for many years, so it was fun for me to write several math books including Fraction Fun, Calculator Riddles, and Shape Up! Fun with Triangles and Other Polygons.
In my office I have this sign, “Don’t Think. Just Write!” and that’s how I work. I try not to worry about each word, even each sentence or paragraph. For me stories evolve. Writing is a process. I rewrite each sentence, each manuscript, many times. And I work with my editors. I look forward to their suggestions, their help in the almost endless rewrite process.
Well, it’s time to get back to dreaming, and to writing, my dream of a job.
David A. Adler is the author of more than 175 children’s books, including the YoungCam Jansen series. He lives in Woodmere, New York.
I had been a math teacher in the New York City school system and was just beginning a child care leave. My first son had been born and I planned to stay home and take care of him while my wife returned to her work as a school psychologist. I had already written a few books, but I wanted to work on a series. I wanted to creat a character young readers would want to read about again and again. I remembered a classmate in first and second grade with a great memory. It was rumored he had a photographic memory. The character Cam Jansen began with him. I also remembered the trouble I had when I first learned to read, the difficulty I had with the books meant to follow the Dick and Jane series. It was too big a leap for me. Even in the late 1970s, when my first son was born, there were still very few books between the easy-to-reads and the eight-to-twelves. Somehow, children were expected to make that leap. For some, it was no problem. For me and many others, it was. The Cam Jansen books (not the Young Cam Jansens) are transitional readers, books for children “in transit,” from easy-to-reads to middle-grade novels.
What makes Cams transitional readers?
The Cams are not simply chapter books with easy reading levels. Children who are just begining to read on their own, read slowly. They read every word. But they don’t think slowly. We can’t ask them to speed up their reading, so to keep their attention it’s necessary to keep the story moving. The Cams move quickly. Something is always happening. Characters are introduced through dialogue and plot. Scenes are set in just a few words.
Why did you make the Cams mysteries?
Comprehension is a real problem with beginning readers. One of my sons once asked me about a book he had just read, “What’s it about?” He read every word of the book and understood none of it. He was too busy sounding out the words to pay any attention to what he was reading. Mysteries are perfect for beginning readers. In the Cams, the clues Cam remembers at the end of the books, the clues that solve the mysteries, are there for the reader, too. Cam’s readers, hopefully, are alert. They try to find the clues and solve the mystery before Cam does.
Did your years as a math teacher influence your writing in any way?
I approach my Cam Jansen mysteries as math problems. First I set up the problem — to create a mystery that will be solved with visual clues. Then I go about solving it.
Why did you decide to make Cam a girl?
I like to write against stereotypes. Cam, as a girl, is curious and assertive, just as many girls really are. But that’s not their stereotype. It’s my hope that the current generation of readers will be open to treat people as individuals, whatever their gender, race, religion, or age.
Are Cam and Eric based on children you’ve known?
Cam is based on a friend of mine from elementary school. Eric is based on me. When I wrote the first of the Cam Jansen mysteries I thought children would identify with timid Eric. I was wrong. I’ve been told that most children who read the books see themselves as the smart, assertive Cam.
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