Elissa Brent Weissman has wanted to write children’s books since she started reading them. She wrote her first novel when she was 10, and when no one wanted to publish it, she was sad for a little while but then just became more driven. She accomplished her goal in 2009, when her first two novels for 8-12 year-olds, Standing for Socks, and The Trouble with Mark Hopper, hit shelves. These “frothy and fun” school stories are often compared to those of Andrew Clements. They have been praised by Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and the Horn Book, and Scholastic’s Instructor magazine selected The Trouble with Mark Hopper as a best pick for new middle schoolers.
Originally from Long Island, New York, Elissa graduated from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program, where she wrote Standing for Socks as a senior in a novel-writing class called The Long Work. After graduating in 2005, she spent a year in London, England, reading, traveling, and earning her MA in Children’s Literature from Roehampton University. She currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where she teaches creative writing to adults, college students, and gifted-and-talented children.
Elissa Brent Weissman
Gabe has wanted a younger brother or sister since he can remember, but his parents have also been divorced for a long time, so that seems not likely to happen–until his dad decides to marry a woman who already has a son who is Gabe’s age, ten years old. His step-brother-to-be, Zack, is everything cool; he is from L.A., has a spikey hairdo, surfs, and plays guitar. Gabe really wants them to be friends but learns in their initial meeting that Zack considers stupid all the things Gabe really enjoys like reading and math club. So when Gabe gets the news that he has been accepted to a summer camp for gifted students–or “nerd camp” as his classmates call it. He needs to make it sound adventurous and fun to Zack. And for Gabe it really is fun. On the very first day, he discovers his bunkmates get excited about memorizing multiple decimal places for pi, so he knows they will be friends. Gabe’s enthusiasm for learning new things is truly infectious and, of course, his knowledge wins Zack over when Gabe is not afraid of a snake they run across in the woods–Gabe learned it was a harmless milk snake in a camp wide “jeopardy” competition. The concerns about wanting to be accepted seem as genuine as his own bit of geeky snobbery that Zack does not know who Beethoven was. The author clearly intends to celebrate kids who do not always fit in and it serves this purpose well. 2011, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, $15.99. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
The Trouble with Mark Hopper
Elissa Brent Weissman
One problem is, there is more than one Mark Hopper: two boys entering grade seven in a Maryland town share exactly the same name. They even look somewhat alike, though their personalities are very different. One is a stuck-up A student, eager for everyone to know how smart he is. The other is a friendly, down-to-earth guy, new to town, who is just an average student but a terrific artist. Right from the start, confusion between the two makes for entertaining troubles, and when they are assigned to be study partners they are both convinced it will be a disaster. They end up helping each other out, but their tentative friendship is tested when nasty Mark enters the Mastermind tournament. He convinces nice Mark to participate in the team-building part of the competition in his place, since nasty Mark does not get along with anyone–but what he does not tell nice Mark is that he has stolen nice Mark’s accomplished portrait of his grandfather to submit to the judges. In the end, nice Mark learns nasty Mark’s reasons for wanting so badly to win, and nasty Mark starts to understand what it means to be a real friend. The fun of this well-plotted tale lies in the telling as well, as Weissman uses the same names throughout (no “nice Mark” and “nasty Mark”), distinguishing the characters only by their actions and dialog. Careful readers should have no problem understanding which Mark is which, and the lesson about friendship should go down smoothly. 2009, Dutton/Penguin, $16.99. Ages 8 to 12.
Elissa’s books have been described as both hilarious and thought-provoking, and her presentations strike the same balance between kid-appeal and substance. Her youth, energy, and dynamism get students pumped about reading and writing. In addition to the presentations below, Elissa is happy to tailor or develop a workshop based on your group’s needs.
- From Idea to Finished Book. Elissa reads from her work and discusses the journey from first draft to finished book. She shares physical versions of her book at every step of the writing and publication process, and she gives eagle-eye students a chance to spot mistakes that even editors missed–including a big one in Mark Hopper! The session ends with plenty of time for questions and answers.
- Your Characters’ Socks. When you’re writing a story, it’s not enough to put yourself in your characters’ shoes–you’ve got to get into their (mismatched?) socks! This workshop gets kids developing believable, interesting, memorable they know inside and out.
- Starting Stories. This fun workshop gets students writing first sentences that, as one student put it, “suck you in like a vacuum cleaner.” With examples from Elissa’s work and other excellent children’s books, students experiment with and share their own smart, effective, and crazy story openers.
- The Climax Challenge. This exciting workshop focuses on the most exciting part of a story: the climax! After learning about the shape of the plot and how the suspense builds to a climax, students will learn how to stretch out the climax of a story to keep readers glued to their seats. Then they’ll practice writing their own climax in the Great Climax Challenge.
- Writing for the Current Children’s Book Market. This session provides an overview of the thriving children’s book market and the types of books by age group and genre. Elissa provides key points for honing children’s writing as a craft, and she offers insider tips and invaluable guidelines for the submission process.
- Focus on Middle Grade Fiction. Eight to twelve is a golden age of reading for many children, and this session brings the literature for this age group into the spotlight. From plot to characters to description and dialogue, Elissa reveals what makes middle grade work–and what makes it such a joy to read and write.
To learn more about Elissa Brent Weissman and her publications please visit www.ebweissman.com.