June 8, 2010

Shining a light on the art of writing

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Jerry Pallotta is standing in the dark, surrounded by a crowd of attentive fifth-graders sitting cross-legged on the school library floor. The only light is coming from a projector across the room that is flashing colorful images on a big screen next to Pallotta, mostly pages taken from his many best-selling books, including the latest series of “Who Would Win” books.
As in, “Who Would Win: Killer Whale or Great White Shark?”
In the dark is how he likes to make presentations to school kids, as though keeping them in the dark makes it easier to see the light bulbs of inspiration going off over their heads.
In this case, the light bulbs are actually arms attached to Derry Village School kids waving wildly in the air, kids inspired by something Pallotta just said, or showed them on the screen.
“You, kid,” says Pallotta with the twang of a Boston cop ready to interrogate, pointing at an arm-shaped light bulb flashing frantically in the back.
“I have some ideas for you – ,” begins the boy, cut off mid-sentence by Pallotta.
“Tell me at the end,” Pallotta fires back. He's done this before. A lot. Like, 4,000 times since his collection of kid books have become standard issue in school libraries across the country. He is beloved by parents, librarians and kids alike for his fun and informative take on just about everything.
Since 1985, when he left the insurance business to write books he thought his four kids might like to read, Pallotta's penned 60 titles, dozens of them alphabet books with a twist – “The Icky Bug Alphabet Book,” “The Yucky Reptile Alphabet Book,” and a slew of other nature-themed, educationally-driven, kid-captivating adventures.
A huge portion of his presentation is devoted to process. He is discussing one of his books, “Who Will Guide My Sleigh Tonight,” and confesses to the kids that he wrote it in hopes it would one day be a big blockbuster movie, like “Toy Story.”
He lets them in on how hard he struggled to tell the story, which explores how Santa settled on reindeer when deciding how to deliver packages to kids on Christmas Eve. Originally, the book was told from the point of view of Santa.
“I lost faith in how I wrote the book, so I decided to write it over. I decided the mouse should tell the story. What do you think the mouse would say?” asked Pallotta. “In your mind, how would you write it? Would the pine tree tell the story? Should the ladder tell the story? What would it say? What do you think the boots would say? 'Hey – it's smelly in here? 'Or the moon? What would the moon say if it were telling the story: 'Hey, Earthlings. Whaddaya doin' down there? How come you haven't been here in 40 years? Ya chicken?'”
The kids erupt in laughter and 20 more light bulbs flash in his direction.
Pallotta explains his inspiration was his kids and his childhood summers spent at Peggotty Beach in Scituate, Mass., in that order.
He talks about finding a tuna on the beach that lost its guts and eyeballs to to a seagull. He segues from Santa to lobster to DNA scientists.
Hey kids: I think some kid in this room will be the scientist who figures out lobster DNA, and how it is they grow back their claws. What if it's you, and you do it wrong, and you inject me with lobster DNA to help me grow back my hair, only my hair doesn't grow back and instead, I grow a claw? I think you might have a good horror story going then,” said Pallotta, who is very up front about his real motive for writing books and visiting schools and talking about clawless lobster and tuna guts and killer whales who can eat sharks in three bites.
My time's almost up, so if you still have questions, get in a line and you can ask me a question,” said Pallotta. “No one ever told me about being a writer when I was a kid, so I'm telling you now: I hope one of you kid will walk out of here today and say, 'I wanna be a writer.' And I hope you write books, or write movies, or write for the Boston Globe, or write whatever makes you happy.”

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