Fourth Grade Journey

A Fourth Grade Teacher's Journey Through the World of Books

Monday, January 8, 2018

An Inside Look #45 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Jarrett Lerner
(Author of Enginerds)

*This was a new feature I added to the blog during the summer of 2016.  It was a shot in the dark that it would work, but much to my surprise; it took off and over first season I conducted 22 interviews with a variety of authors.

*It has been such an honor to connect with authors and "chat" about their novel, characters, and thoughts about the story.

*I ran a series of interviews for Season #TWO over the summer of 2017.  It was great to get back to these conversations, that I decided to run Season #THREE during the 2017/2018 school year.  

*Thank you to Jarrett Lerner for being the TWELVTH author of the third season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first FORTY-FOUR interviews…


*It is always such fun to see a book being raved about on Twitter.  I remember when I started to see "comments" about a new book named Enginerds by Jarrett Lerner.  The readers were talking about how much they loved the story and that it was going to be a HIT with young readers.  After I bought and finished the book, I reached out to Jarrett and found that he was a really COOL guy.  

*He was kind, gracious, and giving with his answers to the questions.  It is an honor to post his responses with my "Inside Look" feature.   

*Here is a link to my review of Enginerds

*Thank you Jarrett Lerner for writing this story for readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog...

by Jarrett Lerner (Released September 12, 2017)

How did you come to know Ken?  
All my characters, Ken included, are products of both my experiences and my imagination. Bits and pieces of people I know in real life show up in the characters I create, but throughout the writing process, my imagination gets involved, adding this and getting rid of that, exaggerating one thing and tamping down another. Sometimes, after dozens and dozens of revisions, the character who started out sort of like someone in my life no longer resembles them at all.

What do you think is Kens most admirable quality?
I think Ken possesses certain admirable qualities of leadership. In the latter half of EngiNerds -- and especially in the closing scenes -- the boys need someone to step up to the plate and be a leader, to keep them organized and on the ball and say a few words to lift their spirits when the going gets tough. But leadership is a very tricky thing. A good leader can very easily turn bad. Power and authority can be dangerous. I hope to broach some of these thorny questions with the EngiNerds books, and to get kids thinking about them. What are some qualities a good leader possesses? What about a bad one? Are leaders born, or can they be made? Can a group of people be led by more than one leader? What would be the benefit of such a scenario? What about the drawbacks?

Is there anything you wish Ken would have changed or done differently in his story?
Definitely! But the story wouldn't have been as exciting if Ken didn't now and again make mistakes or do things that I (and my readers) didn't necessarily agree with. For instance, I wish he'd been a little easier on Dan and had been quicker to give John Henry Knox a chance. If Ken wasn't so stubborn, though, a lot of the drama and comedy of the story would go away.

What do you think Ken can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?  
I think Ken can offer a model for how to act in situations in which a friendship, for one reason or another, becomes strained. Ken doesn't want to "share" Dan, his best friend since forever, with anyone else. Doing so makes him nervous that his own friendship with Dan will somehow become less meaningful or important. I think he learns, though, that that's not how friendships and friend-groups work. You can have more than one best friend. And if one of your friends develops interests that you don't share, that doesn't mean you're destined to grow apart.

How did you research Ken and the circumstances he found himself in?
I'm constantly amazed by authors who do researchresearch -- those who, say, write historical fiction or "hard" science fiction. The thought of undertaking such projects is daunting to me. But that doesn't mean I'm not constantly reading and investigating and asking questions for the betterment of my stories. While writing and revising EngiNerds, I reread some of my favorite adventure stories and looked back at books that I recalled having excellent, extra-snappy dialogue. I've also got a handful of friends who are engineers -- and one who is an actual roboticist! -- and I spoke to them all about a variety of matters. But unlike a writer of historical or "hard" science fiction, when the facts they shared with me didn't suit my imaginative needs, I threw them right out the window.

Do you and Ken share any similarities?  
One quality I share with all the EngiNerds is my love of tinkering. I like to play around with things, to take them apart and put them back together again, to see how they work. I like to create, whether it's building stories with words or, say, building catapults with a bunch of random "junk" I've got lying around the house.

One quality that I hope I share with Ken is his loyalty. Although his stubbornness and pride initially get in the way, he comes through for his friends. Dan approaches Ken with a problem -- a big one, and one that Ken played no part in bringing about. Technically, it's not Ken's responsibility to solve that problem. But because Dan is his friend, because they are loyal to one another, Ken ultimately treats the problem as if it is his own. That's something I admire and strive to practice in my own life, too.

What was the hardest scene to write about Ken?
The hardest -- but also, in a way, most enjoyable -- scenes to write were those that featured Greeeg. I tried to make the robot both cool and creepy at the same time. It was a balancing act, and I needed to use Ken's reactions to the bot to help guide what I wanted the reader to feel. Hopefully that came through: both the excitement of having a walking, talking robot of your very own -- and the fear of the thing when it begins to behave in less-than-ideal ways.

Who do you think was Ken's biggest supporter and why?
I think Dan is Ken's biggest supporter, and that Ken is Dan's biggest supporter right back. They have their differences and their troubles, but at the end of the day, they admire and respect one another immensely. Once Ken gets over his anger and the hurt caused by the secrets Dan kept from him (with good reason, arguably!), he is proud and impressed by his best bud's brilliance. And during the final, climactic scenes of the book, Dan supports Ken, and trusts in him to make the right decisions.

Why do you think is it hard for some children, like these “Enginerds”, to find a group to connect with and feel a part of?  
If I had a solid answer to that, I think I could help prevent a lot of kids' confusion and frustration and sadness and strife. I think a big part of the reason, however, is that the "middle grade" years are the ones during which kids are beginning to truly connect with themselves -- to get a sense of their likes and dislikes, their wants and wishes, their strengths and weaknesses, their interests and passions and values and dreams. To undergo that process while also trying to build relationships with other kids who are undergoing that same complex, dramatic process -- well, it's kind of like trying to put together a puzzle that doesn't have all its pieces. Oh, and you're blindfolded, too!

One of the reasons I do so much work outside of my writing to promote literacy and help get books into kids' hands is because reading can be such a tremendously powerful tool in putting together that metaphorical puzzle.

What do you think Ken is doing at this present time? 
Well, since I've already written the sequel toEngiNerds, I actually know what Ken is doing right now. I can't say too much about the new book, but I can tell you a few things: Kitty plays a big role, as does a very stinky sock; a familiar, curiously shaped cloud drifts by a few times; and a girl EngiNerd joins the crew -- her name's Rebecca, and believe it or not, she might be even smarter than the one and only John Henry Knox.

Jarrett Lerner writes books about farting robots, belching knights, and other serious matters. You can find him online at and on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner. You can also often find him hanging out at, which he cofounded and helps run. He lives with his wife, his daughter, and a cat in Medford, Massachusetts.

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