Think Like a Kid (AKA…Make it a Little Ridiculous), a guest post by Benjamin Roesch
When my sons, Felix and Leo, were little, I used to make up stories to entertain them. Snuggled up in the rocking chair before bed, stories became our special way to connect. These invented yarns were always spontaneous, and usually a little ridiculous.
One night, the story was of a sad young boy named Felix and a lonely old ghost named Papa Joe who bond over a silly caper involving flying a kite in a basement and the absurd number of fans needed to pull it off. When my sons’ faces lit up, I knew that I’d stumbled upon something special—or at least a story worth remembering. That story evolved into my debut middle grade novel, Felix and Squeak and the Ghost Who Forgot Everything.
For several years, the characters of Felix and Papa Joe lived only in my memory. In fact, of all the silly bedtime stories I made up over the years, the one about the boy, the ghost, the kite, and all those fans, is the only one I can remember. I loved the idea of a boy and a ghost bonding over their shared loneliness. But what made the story stick like gum on the bottom of my shoe was its sheer ridiculousness: trying to fly a kite in a basement using only fans. It was the comic audacity of that image I couldn’t shake.
As I turned the story first into a picture book, and then into a middle grade manuscript, I thought often of my sons. As I wrote, expanding the story to include new characters and a more fully-developed world, I pretended we were back in the rocking chair, their tiny bodies nestled against mine. I wondered: what would make them laugh? What would make them want to know what happens next? More often than not, the answer was: something a little ridiculous.
Children have more elastic and playful imaginations than adults, and my favorite children’s authors (Roald Dahl, Kate DiCamillo, E.B. White, Mo Willems) tend to be those who can inhabit the imaginative space usually accessible only to kids. A world where silliness is in charge and ridiculousness reigns. Where logic is suspect and parents don’t know anything. A world where you might try to fly a kite in a basement using only fans—and you might even pull it off.
While writing Felix and Squeak, this spirit of silliness inspired many character names:
- The co-protagonist Squeak
- The huge Irish Wolfhound Honest Abe
- The grouchy septuagenarian Polly Vanderveen
- The sly housecat Pablo Picatso
It also inspired their personalities. Polly Vanderveen is wonderfully mean, ranting at everything and everyone, her hyperbole cranked up to eleven and delivered with a tongue-in-cheek gusto that (I hope) makes readers laugh. Pablo Picatso, Felix’s mother’s beloved cat, is devious and duplicitous, stealing food off Felix’s plate while no one is watching.
Pretending I was still telling the story to my kids also inspired scenes and images, such as Felix riding his massive Irish Wolfhound, Honest Abe, like a horse, pretending he’s a mighty gladiator atop his trusty steed. Or the fact that Felix’s father is a world-renowned kite maker, whose elaborate kites possess such advanced aerodynamics they can be launched from a chair.
Of course, conflict and transformation are the beating heart of all stories, and they are of this one as well. But throughout the writing process, I snuggled up close to the spirit of wackiness and comic delight that made my kids giggle all those years ago. I tried to think like a kid.
One of the paradoxes facing any children’s author is how to get feedback from your audience. When your book is written for eleven-year-olds, how do you line them up as beta readers? As luck would have it, as a former teacher, I was able to connect with three fifth grade educators in my town of Burlington, Vermont, all of whom read Felix and Squeak aloud to their classes. After they finished the book, I visited each class, talking with the kids about their favorite parts. Since I was still editing the book, I was keen, and a little nervous, to hear what they thought.
As the students talked enthusiastically about the book, and peppered me with questions about the writing process, I could tell that it was the story’s more fantastical, and yes, ridiculous, elements that stuck in their minds. Images of Felix riding atop Honest Abe swirled in their imaginations, as did all those fans creating a wind storm powerful enough to set a kite aloft. They loved overly-crass Polly, devious Pablo Picatso, precocious Squeak, and all the silly moments that adorn a book about friendship, bravery, and how to find joy.
Tell your children stories. And remember to make them a little ridiculous. Kids like that.
I’m already dreaming up a Felix and Squeak sequel. I can’t wait to start thinking like a kid again.
Meet the author
BENJAMIN ROESCH’s debut novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze, won the 2023 Next Generation Indie Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. He is also author of the middle grade novel Felix and Squeak and the Ghost Who Forgot Everything. He has an MFA from Lesley University and is a writer, musician, teacher, podcaster, and award-winning essayist. For twelve glorious, exhausting years, he was a high school English teacher, and is now a full-time writer based in Burlington, VT, where he lives with his family. Oh, and his name is pronounced “Rush,” like the band from Canada.
About Felix & Squeak and the Ghost Who Forgot Everything
When eleven-year-old Felix’s family inherits an old mansion and moves without warning, it doesn’t take long to figure out there’s a ghost living in the basement. But Papa Joe is no typical ghost. He’s–well–nice. He’s also been stuck in the basement since the 1800s, housebound by the rules of the Ghost Protocol Book. He’s desperate to escape and it looks like the new kid in town is his only hope.
But Felix doesn’t stand a chance of helping Papa Joe without the help of his new friend Squeak, and an Irish Wolfhound named Honest Abe. Together, this accidental ghost squad will brave dark woods, dusty basements, and snooping parents to get to the bottom of this ghostly mystery.
Publisher: Onion River Press
Publication date: 05/19/2023
Age Range: 7 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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