From Poem to Picture Book
October 26, 2021
Note From Rochelle
If you are a teacher or know a teacher, I’m celebrating the National Day On Writing by raffling off three virtual classroom visits. Please check out the post on my blog and share with your people.
I have a favor to ask you—again! If you’ve read Mightier Than the Sword or even just skimmed it, please write a review and post it on Amazon. Rumor has it, once a book receives “50” reviews, Amazon boosts it. We’ll see!
And whether you’ve read the book or not, please ask your local library and bookstores to carry Mightier Than the Sword! Most libraries have a form online that you can use to request a book. If not, you can print out the blurb on the homepage of my website and share it with them: https://rochellemelander.com/
Today I am delighted to welcome one of my debut group colleagues to the blog to talk about his picture book, I am Odd, I am New. Ben Giroux wrote his I AM poem as a classroom assignment when he was ten. Now that he’s 16, he’s about to become a debut picture book author! Woot! What an amazing lesson in how teen writing can change the world!
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
From Poem to Picture Book
An Interview with Ben Giroux
Welcome, Ben. And Congrats on your new book, I am Odd, I am New. Tell us about the book.
My book is based on my viral poem that I wrote when I was 10. I was in 5th grade and had to write an I AM poem for a school assignment. I wrote about how I felt, being a 10-year-old boy with autism, that was bullied every day. My words, along with the amazing illustrations by the award winning illustrator, Roz MacLean, is now a Kirkus Reviews Star book.
This book started as a school assignment—and became a viral post. Can you share the story of what happened?
I had to write a poem for a class assignment. I wrote it, during the last period of school. I went home and needed to finish the last 2 or 3 lines of the poem. When I was done, I asked my parents to read it, and they really liked it. I didn’t. I thought it was too personal and didn’t think it was special in any way. The next morning, it was a Friday, I knew I had to go to school and read my poem to my class. I didn’t want to because I didn’t want everyone laughing at me. Especially the kids that bullied me. Them knowing I cried when they laughed would simply make them bully me even more. I had a really bad anxiety attack that morning, so my dad decided to keep me home. I had forgotten about the poem until Sunday night when I then realized that the next day, I would have to read it to my class, since I didn’t the Friday before. My parents kept telling me that it was really good and that people wouldn’t laugh, that they would understand it, as they too most likely felt the same way. I told them they only were saying that because they were my parents and they had to tell me it was good. So my dad asked me if he could post it to Facebook. I said sure. He posted it to the National Autism Association site and within 15 minutes they had contacted us asking if they could share it on their main page. We said sure. Hours later I was getting calls from the Today Show, The Huffington Post, and all sorts of other websites, news outlets, all asking for interviews. My poem traveled around the world, being translated into over 20 languages, turned into songs, and even made it into student films.
How did you get your agent—and your publishing deal?
My poem was shared by many celebrities at first, one of those celebrities being the amazing author Anne Rice. My dad reached out to her thanking her for sharing my poem and to ask her advice on how to copywrite it to protect it. Turns out it was Anne Rice’s personal assistant at the time, also an author and comic strip creator Becket, that had shared it to her social media accounts. He really loved my poem as he was also very close to someone on the spectrum. He was kind enough to send my poem to his agent, Naomi Davis, who fell in love with my poem and signed me to a contract. She then worked for 4 years, teamed me up with her other client, Roz MacLean, and finally got a publishing deal with Schiffer Publishing.
I’ve heard you have an important mission for your books. Can you talk about what that is and why it’s important to you?
My mission is and always will be autism acceptance and anti-bullying. Since I’m autistic and was bullied almost my entire life, I don’t want other kids going through what I went through. With the help of the NAA, I created the hashtag #oddtoo, so that people could share their own stories on how they feel different and why that’s a great thing!
I know you attend school and work a part time job. When do you find time to write? Do you have any tips for other teen writers?
I write when I am inspired to write. After my poem went viral, I hardly wrote anything. I wrote a small poem here and there, but nothing worth sharing. It wasn’t until about 4 years later that I was inspired to write a new series of children’s books about my pet snake, Monty. The stories, that are currently being shopped by my agent, are about a corn snake that wishes he was different in order to be loved. But he finds out that he just needs to be himself and not change a thing. I really hope they get published. The main character, my snake Monty, is really sharing a story about how I felt growing up. So as far as advice, I’d say write about things you know about. Things you are passionate about, from the heart.
What are you reading now?
I’m not reading anything right now. I’m really into anime and watching tons of that. But books that I’ve read that I still enjoy today are Meanwhile, a choose your own adventure book that has 3856 possibilities, the Geronimo Stilton Series, and the book Crush by Svetlana Chmakova (a teenage romance book that’s made for teenage kids).
About the author
Benjamin Giroux, author of the children’s book I Am Odd, I Am New, has been featured on many websites, in the Huffington Post, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. He was named Poet Laureate of Plattsburgh, New York, and has also been the face of the National Autism Association’s antibullying campaign. His poem has been translated into more than 20 different languages.