After reading Refugee by Alan Gratz over the summer, Middle School students were able to meet the author himself this spring. Gratz was greeted by a boisterous crowd of students, faculty and staff in the Danforth Hall entryway, before being officially welcomed and presented with artwork and a poem inspired by his books. Happy Phatak ’23 sang and played the ukulele, an original piece she was inspired to create after reading Refugee. Middle School Librarian Laura Matheny asked the assembled students to raise their hands and use their fingers to show how many of Gratz’s books each has read. A sea of hands shot up, showing that students have voraciously embraced Gratz’s novels.
Gratz opened his presentations by explaining how much he loved “choose your own adventure” books when he was growing up. He then used this format to let students drive the rest of his talk. Slides would show two photographs, and Gratz would have students raise their hands to vote on which direction to go. The first decision was whether they wanted to hear a story about the author being a terrible soccer player as a child, or a story about him being a terrible baseball player as a child. The overwhelming vote was for the soccer story, and soon Gratz had the audience of students, faculty and staff laughing with a tale from a grade school soccer pitch. Later, students chose which of his books they wanted to learn more about. He explained the process behind the book, from how he came up with the original concept to how he researched events and developed characters. Students left his presentations inspired to keep writing and creating.
We had the opportunity to ask Mr. Gratz a few questions about his writing process, his motivation and his inspiration, and how those can all relate to students of all kinds: