Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champ

Today is the pub day of my newest book child, Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champ, the fourth title in the Franklin School Friends chapter book series.
Simon appears as Kelsey's reading contest rival in Kelsey Green, Reading Queen; he's Annika's Sudoku contest rival in Annika Riz, Math Whiz; and he is a competitive racer in Izzy Barr, Running Star. When it was Simon's turn to star in his own book, I asked myself: "What problem could a kid have who is good at everything?" And the answer was immediately clear: "That he's good at everything."

Simon is a very bright kid who has a wide range of intellectual and creative interests. He genuinely loves to read, and adores math, and savors playing the violin. And he shines as a speller because of his love affair with words, the longer and harder the better. But his best friend, Jackson, is getting tired of losing at everything to Simon - and when Simon tries letting Jackson win, Jackson gets even madder. Other kids start calling Simon "Super Simon" and then "Super Duper Pooper Simon." What is poor Simon to do? Hide his talents from his classmates? Pretend not to care about all the things that are dear to his heart?

His story ended up being very dear to my own heart. I wrote it during the blissful summer of 2014 when I taught at Hollins, sharing it with the students in my graduate chapter-book writing class. My son Gregory helped me come up the "longest-word-in-the-world" that Simon exults in spelling, and Gregory also served as the only ghost-writer I've ever employed, providing some language for the video gaming action in two scenes; the book is dedicated to him. And Simon is just so sweet, so eager to learn and perplexed that others don't share his affinity for the life of the mind.

So I send him out into the world with an extra-protective hug today.


  1. Congrats! I guess I have to hurry now and finish reading, The Trouble with Ants (-:

    1. Nora and Simon are a lot alike, Angela - both brainy and focused on doing what they love.

  2. I am looking forward to getting Simon's perspective after seeing him as the constant rival. I love that you are giving voice to a kid who genuinely loves to learn and isn't trying to outdo everyone, though it makes sense that other kids would see him that way.
    I have to ask, though, since you broke the rhyming-title pattern (except for the echo in "Ellis" and "spelling")---did you consider rhyming "Ellis" with "jealous"? :-)

  3. Thanks, Julie! I know it was jarring to break the rhyming format of the titles. When we planned the first three titles, we thought that would be it, and we choose the names of the characters to rhyme with a word like queen, whiz, star. But when we expanded the series to two more books, Simon Ellis and Cody Harmon already had their names. Even though Ellis does rhyme with jealous, and all the other kids ARE jealous of Simon, we needed a rhyming word like pro, king, or champ to keep the title format. It all got too complicated!

  4. I understand. I was just being silly. It would sound wrong if you forced the rhyme and it would still break the format . It is nice to have that little echo anyway, and "Harmon" and " farm" have it too, if you go that way-- I wouldn't expect you to call the next one "Cody Harmon, King of Farmin'" either. Thanks for responding so quickly!

  5. Julie, you're so funny! And actually, several people have commented on the break in the rhyming pattern. SIMON ELLIS MAKES EVERYONE JEALOUS would have been a catchy title, too.