Jerry Spinelli and Clare Vanderpool, author visits, Newbery authors, meeting children's authors, meet children's authors, Maniac Magee, Stargirl, Moon Over Manifest, Hokey Pokey, Navigating Early

Meeting Jerry Spinelli and Clare Vanderpool

Author Visit with Newbery Winners Spinelli and Vanderpool

PickyKidPix and I were excited to meet Newbery winning authors Jerry Spinelli and Clare Vanderpool who have been on the road together promoting their latest works.

At first glance, they are a pair of contrasts.

Jerry Spinelli and Clare Vanderpool, Needham Library Newbery author event

Clare looks like a young mom. She has two chapter books under her belt. I had met her at a Random House LiveChat along with Rebecca Stead, yet another Newbery winner. Not a real life meeting per se, more of a Twitter Party-like atmosphere. But she remembered it, and if she didn’t remember me exactly — I was one of a half-dozen co-hosts — she was as gracious and charming as she was on the LiveChat.

pragmatic mom, clare vanderpool

Jerry is a seasoned veteran who has authored dozens of lauded books. He has this connection with children that is palpable. I think my daughter would have crawled into his lap and had him read to her, if the line for his autograph wasn’t so long. Kids understand that he understands them.

pragmatic mom, jerry spinelli

In the front row of the auditorium was a gaggle of young girls, perhaps 5th or 6th grade, that were clearly Stargirl Spinelli fans. You could tell that they coerced a parent to drive them to this event — 8 pm on a school night —  for a chance to meet and ask Jerry questions about what happens to beloved characters. He appreciated their enthusiasm, in fact his whole demeanor changed. He perked up and sat up straighter. And he even gently hinted at the outcome much to the girls’ delight!

Spinelli and Vanderpool both belong to a rarefied club with only a few dozen living members: Winners of the Newbery Prize! The road to this exclusive club couldn’t have been more different for each of them.

Jerry: 12 years and 4 books that nobody wanted and it was the fifth that got published.

(His fifth published book is Newbery winner Maniac Magee but I suppose there were books penned along the way that haven’t been published yet though I imagine that anything he’s ever written would sell like hotcakes now!).

Space Station Seventh Grade 1982
Who Put That Hair on my Toothbrush 1984
Jason and Marceline 1986
Dump Days 1991
Maniac Magee 1990 1991 Newbery Award
The Bathwater Gang 1990
Hallie Jefferys Life 1991
Fourth Grade Rats 1991
Report to the Principal’s Office 1991
There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock 1991
Do the Funky Pickle 1992
Who Ran My Underwear Up the Flagpole? 1992
Picklemania 1993
Tooter Pepperday 1996
The Library Card 1997
Wringer 1997 – 1998 Newbery Honor [5]
Blue Ribbon Blues: A Tooter Tale 1998
Knots in My Yo-Yo String 1998
Stargirl 2000
Loser 2002
Love, Stargirl 2007
Milkweed: A Novel 2003
My Daddy and Me 2006
Eggs 2007
Smiles to Go 2008
I Can Be Anything! 2010
Jake and Lilly 2012
Hokey Pokey 2013

Clare: Her debut chapter book won the Newbery and her second book has received rave reviews including predictions for another Newbery award.

Moon Over Manifest took the children’s book community by surprise. It was a dark horse wins … even A Fuse #8 Production didn’t have it on her radar and she’s my go to guru.

But anyone who’s read her book would agree that, of course, it should have won. It’s an exquisite book, reminiscent of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, another Newbery winner .

The author event was moderated by a local children’s librarian who asked them adult-like questions about their craft and specifics about their new books. It was difficult to get into unless you had read both books — I hadn’t and neither had my 5th grade daughter.

It was a shame it couldn’t have been more conversational to allow for the authors to banter back and forth. They had clearly developed a friendship from their week spent together. Instead, it was a list of questions read from a well researched piece of paper that each author dutifully answered.

It reminded me of the short story by Jon Scieska and Kate DiCamillo, Your Question for Author Here, in Guys Read: Funny Business. In this short story, children’s author Maureen O’Toople writes a young boy back saying:

You have posed some questions. And you want some answers, answers that will result in your receiving a grade higher than a C-. I don’t know if I can help you, Joe, because I don’t feel like answering questions. The older you get, the more questions you get asked and the more weary you become of answering the questions and the more elusive the answers — any answer, every answer — seem.

Joe had written her:

1. Why do you write books?

2. Where do you get your ideas?

3. What got you started writing?

4. Your question for author here.


I have an idea! I’d love to see Jerry Spinelli and Clare Vanderpool write a short story for Guys Read. And then, when they go on a press junket, they can answer questions like:

  • How did you come up with your story idea and who did what?
  • What lessons about the writing craft did you learn from each other?
  • What would the one piece of advice you’d give to each other?
  • Who’s funnier either in person or in their writing?
  • If you could pick a different writing partner, who would it be and why?
  • What is something that you have in common with each other that you’d didn’t expect?

As luck would have it, someone in the audience was able to ask a #4 type of question. You can tell how much they enjoy each other’s company from the video!

Click on image of any book to view more closely at Amazon or here for Barnes and Noble.

Jerry Spinelli and Clare Vanderpool, author visits, Newbery authors, meeting children's authors, meet children's authors, Maniac Magee, Stargirl, Moon Over Manifest, Hokey Pokey, Navigating Early

p.s. I bet you knew that Jon Scieszka won a Caldecott honor and Kate DiCamillo, a Newbery honor for their respective books. What a small world!

p.p.s. I am half way through Navigating Early and it’s so good. Who would have thunk that a story involving the number Pi, a high functioning austistic boy, and an unlikely friendship would make for riveting action adventure? Only in the hands of a master storyteller! It’s a difficult chapter book to describe but a pleasure to read.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. I enjoyed the interview and particularly Jerry’s advice to struggling authors, But you are right, this definitely was not a kid friendly interview ad that is disappointing because I am sure lots of children could have gained a lot more if the focus of the questions were different.

  2. I think I need to read Navigating Early!
    maryanne recently posted…Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books: Angela DominguezMy Profile

  3. I’m currently reading Navigating Early. It’s soooooo good!
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  4. Ann

    Jerry Spinelli’s persistence and subsequent success is so inspirational! I will have to check out these books!
    Ann recently posted…Building LettersMy Profile

    • Hi Ann,
      What was so wonderful about meeting Jerry and hearing him speak is that you can totally tell how much he genuinely loves kids and writes specifically for them. He really understands that world. His face totally lit up with kids started asking him questions about their beloved Star Girl (and though he shouldn’t have, he hinted enough to give them the answer they were seeking about a question of a boy in the book that is unresolved). The gaggle of girls were thrilled. They sat front row and center and you could tell how much they loved his books!

      He’d be the perfect grandfather. I didn’t post my picture of my daughter with Jerry because I don’t like to put their photos up, but she snuggled right up to him in a very comfortable way. He just makes kids feel at home, in person and in his books. What a wonderful gift he has!
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  5. It’s been a good while since I’ve heard these names! I love these books when I was a kid! The stinky cheese man was one of my favorites, and maniac McGee was great too! Thanks for sharing!

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