“What if [Malcolm] could prove to the Academy that he was a critter of…valor and merit? Maybe…he could admit the truth. Maybe then everyone could start thinking that not all rats are skuzzy.” ~ from MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT
I’ve always been one to root for the underdog. Yes, even a rat. At our house, we aren’t pet people (allergies spoil the fun), and that one rat in the garage last summer was a little disconcerting. Still, like my son, I enjoy a good book about a critter surrounded by unfortunate rumors. Or, mistaken identity.
My son and I read W.H. Beck’s novel, MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT, together and loved every page, every illustration. Beck tells the story of Malcolm, a rat who, after being mistaken for a mouse, becomes the fifth grade pet in Mr. Binny’s classroom. He learns quickly that he’s not the only pet in the school and that much of the serious work going on at McKenna happens once the Midnight bell rings.
Soon after he’s admitted into the Midnight Academy of McKenna school pets, Malcolm becomes the prime suspect in the mystery of a missing iguana. He sets out to prove, then (to himself and the other classroom pets), that rats are not all bad. In fact, he depends on his “every ratty fiber and trick” to save the day, and – likely – the entire school.
I’m honored to host W.H. Beck for a Q&A. Because my son and I read this book together, I asked him to come up with the first two questions. He rattled them off right away, adding that he hopes for a sequel. Which means, MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT is too good not to share. I’m giving away a copy, so drop your name in the comments for a chance to win and look for the lucky reader on Tuesday, February 20th.
Now, welcome W.H. Beck!
CC: How did you decide to write your book?
WHB: Well, when I started Malcolm, I was working on a nonfiction animal series, so I think I had critters on the brain. I’ve also always loved stories that take place in the “regular” world, but have something a little fantastical going on just out of sight. Since I work in a school, it was fun to imagine what happened after all we humans headed home. It just grew from there.
CC: Did you ever own a pet rat?
WHB: Ha! No, we have a dog and a gecko—but I do get asked that a lot. The truth is, I’m not exactly sure where the rat came from, except that I wanted an animal that had to use his animal “superpowers” to solve a mystery. When I read about how rats can compress their bones to fit through the hole the size of quarter, hold their breath for three minutes and swim up through sewer pipes, and gnaw through glass and cement and steel…well, it seemed too fun not to use in a story. It also made it interesting to have Malcolm struggle with rat stereotypes.
CC: As an elementary school librarian, I imagine you run into a variety of readers, from voracious to completely uninterested. How does the challenge of meeting students at both ends of the reading spectrum influence your life as an author?
WHB: What a good question! And the answer is…I’m not sure I think about this overtly when I write. I am usually just trying to write a story that I like. But I think you’re right that it does influence me subconsciously. I’ve seen the power of humor in a story for kids and have a good sense for how long readers will stick with a descriptive passage (zero seconds, in case you’re wondering—it WILL be skimmed over). But I think what voracious readers love and what might draw in reluctant readers may not actually be all that different. And it may not be all that different than what brings me to a story—an interesting idea, characters I care about, something unexpected happening. The trick is coming up with all that, and doing it well. J
CC: What are you reading these days?
WHB: I am reading THE RUNAWAY KING by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I was a huge fan of THE FALSE PRINCE, so I was delighted to get the second book in the series as an ARC. (One of the perks of being a librarian as well as a writer!)
CC: Do you have any advice for up and coming writers?
WHB: I’m a huge believer in READING for writers (and really, for everyone—that’s why I became a school librarian, after all J). Anyway, for writers it is so important to read to not only know the market and what is selling, but also to study the craft. To analyze why stories work (or don’t work) and to figure out how other authors develop characters, create tension, and so much more. It’s the best homework there is.
As a kid growing up in Wisconsin, W.H. Beck’s dad always teased her that she would be a librarian someday. That’s because she read all the time—walking home from school, while brushing her teeth, under the table at dinnertime, and under the covers at night. And, sure enough, after earning an elementary teaching degree from the University of Wisconsin, she went on to get a master’s degree in information studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (Yes, that’d be library school.)
She still lives and reads in Wisconsin, but now she shares her home and books with a husband, two sons, and a sneaky (but loveable) dog. By day, she’s an elementary school librarian. And early in the mornings, late at nights, and in between kids’ sports practices, she writes.
For more about W.H. Beck and her books, visit her website, where she’s put together a wonderful list of blog posts about MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT, the revision process, post-publication, and the making of the book trailer.
Remember, drop your name in the comments for a chance to win and read your own copy of Malcolm at Midnight.