Today’s guest, Kim Griswell, and I share a six-degrees of separation kind of thing. Though we’ve never met, she was in a critique group for years with my dear friend and writing partner, Mary Nethery. And any friend of Mary’s is a good buddy of mine. I am so delighted to host Kim to celebrate Rufus Blasts Off! (Sterling Children’s Books.) Hint: Read to the end of the post for details about a giveaway.
When I think about becoming a writer, two things seem paramount: shyness and a love of books.
As a kid, I was way beyond shy. If company came to call, I would hide in the bathroom till they left. If I went with my older sister to McDonald’s, I would beg her to order my fish sandwich and fries. I never raised my hand in class even though I usually knew the answer. I just sat there in a fevered tension between hope and dread, both wanting and not wanting to be called on. I wanted desperately to prove that the shy kid was kinda smart, but being called on made me feel as if I would explode right out of my skin.
And books? Before I started school, I’d read every book in the children’s section of the library and been given a special card to check out books from the adult section. Despite that, my first- grade teacher put me in the lowest level reading group. I guess the fact that I didn’t volunteer to read aloud threw her. I wanted to tell her she’d put me in the wrong group but I just didn’t have the nerve. I got bumped up when tests showed I’d actually started school at a sixth-grade reading level.
Like me, the star of Rufus Blasts Off! loves books more than anything on the planet. Unlike the younger version of me, Rufus Leroy Williams III doesn’t hesitate to walk right up to an authority figure and ask for what he wants. Whether it’s a school principal, a pirate captain, or the commander of a space ship, Rufus requests and questions and persists until he gets to “Yes!”
He is, after all, a piglet, which probably makes it easier to trot right into muddy situations. He’s also adorably irresistible thanks to illustrator Valeri Gorbachev. Rufus gives me a chance to be fearless. To do things I never dared as a kid. He doesn’t hide from the world. He’s talkative. He’s adventurous. He’s downright pushy. I love that Rufus lets me be fearless on the page.
Rufus Blasts Off! is book three in the series from Sterling Children’s Books. The idea for the first book, Rufus Goes to School, started with a childhood emotion—envy. That older sister of mine—the one who ordered for me at McDonald’s—started school two years before me. I vividly remember kneeling on the couch pressing my nose against the plate-glass window as she headed off to school with her lunch box and bookbag in hand. I really really wanted to go to school, too. But I was too young. Rufus wants the same thing but his problem is far worse than mine. He isn’t too little: he’s a pig! He gathers everything he needs for school—a backpack, a lunch box, a blanket—and keeps trying until Principal Lipid stops saying “No pigs in school!” and ushers him into a classroom.
At the beginning of book two, Rufus Goes to Sea, our intrepid pig shows up to find a sign on the school door that reads, “Enjoy Your Summer Vacation!” Rufus sits down on the steps to read his favorite book, The Pirates, and knows just what to do. He’ll become a pirate until school is back in session. He hails a taxi and heads to the docks where he finds a ship in search of a pirate. Though Captain Wibblyshins says, “No pigs on a pirate ship!” Rufus only takes “Yes!” for an answer.
Rufus Blasts Off! finds his pirate mates bored with the same old stories, so Rufus decides he’ll find new stories to share…in space! It takes a while for Rufus to convince Commander Luna that he has the right stuff for a trip to Mars. She’s, justifiably as it turns out, afraid that he’ll want to push all the buttons in the space ship. But when the mission member meant to read aloud to kids from Mars catches a cold and gets herself grounded, Rufus gets the berth he’s been wanting. “Welcome aboard, Reading Specialist Williams!” says Commander Luna.
My Rufus adventures would still be nothing more than words on a page if not for my illustrator and good friend Valeri Gorbachev. I am so grateful to have a talented pro with more than 50 children’s books to his credit bringing Rufus to life in three books.
Giveaway: I will send a signed copy of Rufus Blasts Off! to one book lover who retweets Kirby’s link to this post between now and midnight November 6.
Kim T. Griswell has written about everything from flesh-eating plants to exploding toilets. After 20 years in senior editorial and book development positions in children’s and educational publishing, she spends as much of each day as possible reading and writing children’s books. Kim sings in a rock band and a peace choir, where she fell for and married the director, Rob. They live in a tiny house beneath a towering redwood in Ashland, Oregon. Find her at her website, www.kimgriswell.com, on Facebook @rufusreads or on Twitter @kimgriswell.