Richard Peck

Richard Peck

Bio

“I spent the first eighteen years of my life in Decatur, Illinois, a middle-American town in a time when teenagers were considered guilty until proven innocent, which is fair enough. My mother read to me before I could read to myself, and so I dreamed from the start of being a writer in New York. But Decatur returned to haunt me, becoming the “Bluff City” of my four novels starring Alexander Armsworth and Blossom Culp. When I was young, we were never more than five minutes from the nearest adult, and that solved most of the problems I write about for a later generation living nearer the edge. The freedoms and choices prematurely imposed upon young people today have created an entire literature for them. But then novels are never about people living easy lives through tranquil times; novels are the biographies of survivors.

“I went to college in Indiana and then England, and I was a soldier in Germany—a chaplain’s assistant in Stuttgart—ghost-writing sermons and hearing more confessions than the clergy. In Decatur we’d been brought up to make a living and not to take chances, and so I became an English teacher, thinking this was as close to the written word as I’d be allowed to come. And it was teaching that made a writer out of me. I found my future readers right there in the roll book. After all, a novel is about the individual within the group, and that’s how I saw young people every day, as their parents never do. In all my novels, you have to declare your independence from your peers before you can take that first real step toward yourself. As a teacher, I’d noticed that nobody ever grows up in a group.

“I wrote my first line of fiction on May 24th, 1971—after seventh period. I’d quit my teaching job that day, liberated at last from my tenure and hospitalization. At first, I wrote with my own students in mind. Shortly, I noticed that while I was growing older every minute at the typewriter, my readers remained mysteriously the same age. For inspiration, I now travel about sixty thousand miles a year, on the trail of the young. Now, I never start a novel until some young reader, somewhere, gives me the necessary nudge.”

More About Richard Peck

Richard Peck has written more than thirty novels, and in the process has become one of the country’s most highly respected writers for children. In fact The Washington Post called him “America’s best living author for young adults.” A versatile writer, he is beloved by middle-graders as well as young adults for his historical and contemporary comedies and coming-of-age novels. He lives in New York City, and spends a great deal of time traveling around the country to speaking engagements at conferences, schools, and libraries.

Mr. Peck is the first children’s book author to have received a National Humanities Medal. He is a Newbery Medal winner (for A Year Down Yonder), a Newbery Honor winner (for A Long Way from Chicago), a two-time National Book Award finalist, and a two-time Edgar Award winner. In addition, he has won a number of major honors for the body of his work, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the ALAN Award, and the Medallion from the University of Southern Mississippi.

 

Twenty Minutes a Day
by Richard Peck
Read to your children
Twenty minutes a day;
You have the time,
And so do they.
Read while the laundry is in the machine;
Read while the dinner cooks;
Tuck a child in the crook of your arm
And reach for the library books.
Hide the remote,
Let the computer games cool,
For one day your children will be off to school;
Remedial? Gifted? You have the choice;
Let them hear their first tales
In the sound of your voice.
Read in the morning;
Read over noon;
Read by the light of
Goodnight Moon.
Turn the pages together,
Sitting close as you’ll fit,
Till a small voice beside you says,
“Hey, don’t quit.”

copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.


Richard Peck

Richard Peck

Books

Q&A

Richard Peck on writing

I spent the first eighteen years of my life in Decatur, Illinois, a middle-American town in a time when teenagers were considered guilty until proven innocent, which is fair enough. My mother read to me before I could read to myself, and so I dreamed from the start of being a writer in New York. But Decatur returned to haunt me, becoming the “Bluff City” of my four novels starring Alexander Armsworth and Blossom Culp. When I was young, we were never more than five minutes from the nearest adult, and that solved most of the problems I write about for a later generation living nearer the edge. The freedoms and choices prematurely imposed upon young people today have created an entire literature for them. But then novels are never about people living easy lives through tranquil times; novels are the biographies of survivors.

I went to college in Indiana and then England, and I was a soldier in Germany — a chaplain’s assistant in Stuttgart — ghost-writing sermons and hearing more confessions than the clergy. In Decatur we’d been brought up to make a living and not to take chances, and so I became an English teacher, thinking this was as close to the written word as I’d be allowed to come. And it was teaching that made a writer out of me. I found my future readers right there in the roll book. After all, a novel is about the individual within the group, and that’s how I saw young people every day, as their parents never do. In all my novels, you have to declare your independence from your peers before you can take that first real step toward yourself. As a teacher, I’d noticedthat nobody ever grows up in a group.

I wrote my first line of fiction on May 24th, 1971 — after seventh period. I’d quit my teaching job that day, liberated at last from my tenure and hospitalization. At first, I wrote with my own students in mind. Shortly, I noticed that while I was growing older every minute at the typewriter, my readers remained mysteriously the same age. For inspiration, I now travel about sixty thousand miles a year, on the trail of the young. Now, I never start a novel until some young reader, somewhere, gives me the necessary nudge…

In an age when hardly more than half my readers live in the same homes as their fathers, I was moved to write Father Figure. In it a teenaged boy who has played the father-figure role to his little brother is threatened when they are both reunited with the father they hardly know. It s a novel like so many of our novels that moves from anger to hope in situations to convince young readers that novels can be about them…

I wrote Are You in the House Alone? when I learned that the typical victim of ourfastest growing, least-reported crime, rape, is a teenager — one of my own readers, perhaps. It s not a novel to tell young readers what rape is. They already know that. It is meant to portray a character who must become something more than a victim in our judicial system that defers to the criminal…

Two of my latest attempts to keep pace with the young are a comedy called Lost inCyberspace and its sequel, The Great Interactive Dream Machine. Like a lot ofadults, I noticed that twelve year olds are already far more computer-literate than I will ever be. As a writer, I could create a funny story on the subject, but I expect young readers will be more attracted to it because it is also a story about two friends having adventures together. There’s a touch of time travel in it, too, cybernetically speaking, for those readers who liked sharing Blossom Culp’s exploits. And the setting is New York, that magic place I dreamed of when I was young in Decatur, Illinois…

copyright 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

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