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My Weird School

JANUARY 28, 2013

Ten years.

That is how long Dan Gutman and I have been working on the MY Weird School book series. And I have loved it. Before the folks at HarperCollins called and asked if I wanted to be the illustrator for a new series about a school-hating second grader and his weird teachers I had always wanted to work on a chapter book series. My admiration for The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka was mostly because of the terrific artwork created by Lane Smith and Adam McCauley. And before that our kids and I would read Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey because we loved the goofy, pointless stories and artwork. Goofy and pointless - I wouldn't mind having that on my headstone when my time comes.

In the ten years that Dan and I have been working on the My Weird School series we have seen the kids in the books go from 2nd to 3rd grade. Teachers come and go, marry each other and try in vain to teach the same math lesson book after book. We now have 40 books in print and another half dozen or so are planned over the next couple of years. The artwork in the series is now at a point that I am pretty happy. The characters have grown into their roles and the stories are more funny and more unpredictable than ever before. That is a surprise to me - that after forty books the art and stories have improved.

A few years ago Dan and I both admitted to each other that we figured the series would be a success if we could just reach 8-10 books. That would be good, we thought. That would be enough. But the series has been a bigger hit than we imagined. Dan created My Weird School to be a goofy series that would turn on reluctant readers and in that regard it has been an olympic sized success. We both receive letters from kids and happy parents that the My Weird School books have made their kids love to read. Dan often visits schools to read and talk to kids about reading and I visit schools to draw and talk with kids about the importance of reading and creativity. A pretty fun way to spend a morning is drawing with seventy 3rd and 4th graders while trying to make each other laugh.

The question I am most asked by parents is, "don't you get tired of drawing the same characters over and over?". No, not a bit. And that surprises even me since I have the attention span of a gibbon. The question that kids usually ask is, "who is your favorite character in the book?". A.J., the flawed but lovable kid who is also the narrator in the series.

Here are some of the more recent book covers in the series.

 In 2010, I created a piece for an article in School Library Journal. The piece, "How I corrupted The Youth of America", was about censorship and parental reaction (and hyper over-reaction) to some kids books. In this case - the My Weird School books.