Lower Schoolers Learn Writing from Author Who ‘Didn’t Quit’

A children’s fiction writer with 160 published titles to his name visited the Lower School on Feb. 20 to share day-in-the-life details about being a “glamorous” author, lead spirited writing workshops, and tell a determined story about all the times he was rejected.

Dan Gutman, whose credits include the popular Baseball Card Adventures series and the My Weird School series, spent all day with students as he led two assemblies, signed books, lunched with students in the library, and read a book to first graders.

Gutman, who was 30 when his first book was published, told the boys he didn’t always love reading.

“I was one of the kids who hated to read,” he said. “I thought reading was boring and hard. My mother was worried about me. She bought me comic books. It didn’t help.”

That all changed in fourth grade, when Gutman fell in love with sports.

“Suddenly, I wanted to know everything about sports,” he said. “So I had to read.”

His passion led to more than just reading skills: Years later it inspired a successful series of children’s books centered on baseball and time travel.

It all started with an idea about a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card, one of the most valuable in the world, and a boy who uses it to travel in time.

He sent the manuscript to a publisher, and that’s when the rejection started.

The letter, which Gutman showed students at the Lower School, said: “I really don’t think kids will find this as fascinating as adults do.”

“And I was really disappointed,” Gutman told the boys, asking them: “Did I give up?”
“No,” they mumbled.

“Did I give up?” he asked again.

“NO!” they shouted.

“That’s better,” he said. “I never give up.”

Still, publisher after publisher rejected the manuscript.

“The plot seems too predictable,” said one letter.

“Certain aspects of time travel are not treated consistently or explained logically,” said another.

The story is “overshadowed by historical information.”

“The writing seems flat.”

Ten rejections later, Gutman said, he was actually thinking about quitting, when HarperCollins finally said, “Yes.”

Honus and Me became a best seller, and the first book in the successful Baseball Card Adventures series.

“Long story short, I’m really glad I didn’t quit on this book,” he said, telling the boys: “I hope you don’t quit, either.”

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