May 14, 2018

Captian Superlative by J.S. Puller: Interview and Review

Today I'm happy to share with you a great new book I was introduced to called 

Captian Superlative by J.S. Puller.  

About the book

"Have no fear, citizens! Captain Superlative is here to make all troubles disappear!"

Red mask, blue wig, silver swimsuit, rubber gloves, torn tights, high top sneakers and . . . a cape? Who would run through the halls of Deerwood Park Middle School dressed like this? And why?

Janey-quick to stay in the shadows-can't resist the urge to uncover the truth behind the mask. The answer pulls invisible Janey into the spotlight and leads her to an unexpected friendship with a superhero like no other. Fearless even in the face of school bully extraordinaire, Dagmar Hagen, no good deed is too small for the incomparable Captain Superlative and her new sidekick, Janey.

But superheroes hold secrets and Captain Superlative is no exception. When Janey unearths what's truly at stake, she's forced to face her own dark secrets and discover what it truly means to be a hero . . . and a friend.

J.S. Puller was kind enough to respond to a few questions I asked about!!

I work with Middle Schoolers. Can you talk about your middle school years and how (if it did) it made its way into the story?
Middle school was definitely a tough time for me.  I was going through a lot of difficult transitions, including the death of a grandparent, a close friend moving away (in the ancient
times before Skype and Google), and most of all having to face a great deal of bullying.  A lot of these struggles ended up on the pages of CAPTAIN SUPERLATIVE, in both Janey and Paige’s struggles.  I’ll also freely admit I said some things that I definitely regret, now.  Dagmar gets some of those lines.  Most significantly, in terms of CAPTAIN SUPERLATIVE, though, I developed a habit that drove my friends crazy!  I started arriving early to school and opening the doors for people.  Just like Captain Superlative herself.  To this day, I can’t really tell you why I did it.  Maybe I wanted to feel important.  Maybe I wanted to help.  It could really have been anything.  But I kept doing it.  In spite of funny looks, random insults, and my friends’ bewilderment.  I think, more than anything else, it was because in middle school, I was on a desperate quest to start learning who I was.  And a part of that became doing things like holding doors.  For no other reason than because I wanted to.
The book looks at "superheroes".  What is your idea of a superhero? Who were your superheroes throughout your life? 
A superhero, to me is someone we mere mortals should aspire to be like, who teaches us critical human virtues, not by lecturing at us or commanding our behavior, but by leading by example.  CAPTAIN SUPERLATIVE is dedicated to the two greatest superheroes I’ve ever known, my parents.  My mother never told me “You need to be a kind person.”  She simply was kind and showed me how to do it.  My father never told me “You need to work hard.”  He worked hard.  And I followed in his footsteps.  Now, that said, I was your typical, kind of stubborn kid who refused to believe that my parents were awesome so, growing up, my greatest hero and the person whose example I followed was…Kermit the Frog. “It’s not easy being green,” he would lament.  But ultimately, he always decided it was what he wanted to be.  Himself.  Is there a better lesson?

My students always want to know how an author writes a book - can you tell me about your writing process for this book?  How long did it take? 
Writing CAPTAIN SUPERLATIVE was definitely not a “normal” journey (although I might argue that “normal” is just a setting on a dishwasher).  It started one evening when I was visiting a friend.  She asked me to sing a song for her grandmother and I sang “A Little Gossip” from Man of La Mancha, the musical version of DON QUIXOTE.  I remember thinking to myself that it was a shame the role of Sancho, Don Quixote’s sidekick, was always played by a man.  I thought it would be fun to play as a woman.  The idea never really left me.  And then, over a weekend back in 2013, I decided I wanted to write a play about bullying.  The play became an adaptation of DON QUIXOTE, from the point of view of a modern Sancho, a girl named Janey, who was a constant bystander in life.  The play got developed.  Produced.  And as a challenge to myself, I decided to turn it into a novel.  I wrote the first draft in a month, then took a class at the University of Chicago to polish the manuscript.  And sent out over fifty query letters before I signed with an agent and did additional rewrites.  From there, it was auctioned to Disney Hyperion and I worked with an editor on even more rewrites.  From the first outline of the play to the final manuscript was a period of about four years!

Thank you so much for sharing!  I love hearing how her struggles in middle school made it into the book.  What a great thing for kids to hear! 

It has been a long time since I truly fell in love with a middle-grade book.  I've had some books I really enjoyed, but not fully fell in love with.  I fell in love with this book. I LOVED Janey.  She was real.  She was a kid I could completely see living and breathing in one of my classes.  I felt for her.  In the book, she talks about being "air".  She doesn't want anyone to notice her or call attention and she knows that no one really does.  She is "air".  So fitting for so many kids I see each day.  Sad by true.  This is a book I could hand to them, and help them see themselves in a story.  My daughter would have related to her!  

Now the plot - I did have to set aside my teacher mind a bit and let go of some of the stuff with Captain Superlative.  I just know some might now have happened in real life BUT I was ok with that! I loved Captain Superlative too.  I wish there could be more like her.  I liked her theory about starting small doing good things and then making it a habit.  I think it's an idea that would connect with kids.  

Can I just say one of my other favorite characters was Janey's dad! What a positive parental role-model in a book.  He was fantastic.  So much could've been done differently with his role after Janey's mother died - so many stereotypical things.  But instead, Puller choose to make he a great dad that did the right thing and loved his daughter fully.  I just love that kids could see him in this story and learn from him.  He was the right amount of wise father without being too much. 

I won't say too much about the plot because it really needs to be revealed to each reader.  I'll just say that it's a story that kids need because it's something they deal with and see.  All of it - the bullying, the secrets, friendship - everything.  Is it serious at a point?  Yup, but not every kid has a life that is easy.  They need to see themselves in the story.  And maybe - to help them understand the world around them - they need stories like this too see and understand what is not a part of their life.  

In short: Loved it.  Will be recommending it to several kids I know. 
Library? Yes, I would add it in a heartbeat. 

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