Allison's Book Bag

Ghosts, Vampires, and Dinosaurs! Oh My!

Posted on: January 6, 2012

What do Lemony Snicket and Derek the Ghost have in common? They are both pen names of children’s book authors.

Derek the Ghost is an eleven-year-old ghost who haunts the classrooms and hallways of Scary School, writing down all the spine-tingling often hilarious things that go on there. For today’s fun, check out An Interview with Derek the Ghost.

He’s also the persona of Derek Taylor Kent, a “first-time ghost whisperer” with whom Derek the Ghost communicates. Check back tomorrow for information about Derek Taylor Kent himself. What pen name would you pick for yourself?

This weekend, I’ll post an interview with him and a review of his newest book: Scary School. Save the dates: January 7-8!

Derek Taylor Kent is one of those authors who grew up writing. I relate to these type of  authors, because that’s me too. Kent remembers being the “writer” of his class since the age of seven. He looked  forward to creative writing time and would write the longest stories because he never wanted to stop. As for me, by the age of seven, I was writing adventures in notebooks based on those I had heard on the radio or had read in fairy tale books. In elementary school, my stories were always the longest too. And, when most of my grade-six classmates wrote “teacher” or “doctor” when asked about their dream job, I wrote that I wanted to be an “author”.

Kent also was the “weird kid” who, during “free reading” time, would actually sit  and read the dictionary. I relate to those type of authors too. Among the many things I read as a child, I regularly browsed the dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia.

Although Kent grew up shy, he found that his writing helped him connect to his classmates. He could always make them laugh with his silly stories. What were your quirks growing up?

Complete set of the seven books of the Harry P...

Image via Wikipedia

In sixth-grade, he had a special teacher named Ms. Russell. According to him in an interview at Cracking the Cover, she was “incredibly encouraging and gave us tons of freedom to work on our own projects outside of class for extra credit. My friends and I basically formed our own comedy troop and would write and perform skits just about every single day.” Ever since, Derek says he has always felt like that same eleven-year-old kid trying his hardest to make his peers laugh. When writing his books, he just puts himself back in that mindset to connect with today’s young people.

At the age of 15, Derek seriously began writing children’s books and thinking of becoming a professional writer. Later, when he read the Harry Potter series in college, J.K. Rowling’s unique world made him want to create his own. That desire eventually led to the writing of the Scary School books.

Cover of "Sideways Stories from Wayside S...

Cover of Sideways Stories from Wayside School

The first Scary School book was released this past June. The idea of a scary school came to Derek while he was working on his first middle-grade novel, Rudy and the Beast: My Homework Ate My Dog. Editors at Harper Collins liked Kent’s writing enough to suggest that he write a lighter, funnier book using the Scary School title. Kent liked their idea, feeling that he could draw on his strengths as a comedy writer by focusing just on the concept of a Scary School and how hilarious it would be if it actually existed.

As for other inspirations, Kent feels that Vonnegut wrote some of the craziest, funnest, and emotionally powerful short stories ever. Another tongue-in-cheek book for young people, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, also influenced him. He also drew on his own school experiences. But more on that in our interview.

Scary School might be about physical monsters, but it’s also about those “monstrous” experiences that we all share such as a new school. Derek tried to convey those traumatic feelings in Scary School, while also potentially putting things in perspective. After all, there are worse things than being the new kid. For example, your teacher could be a vampire or a dinosaur. 🙂 What do you think is worst than being the new kid?

You’ll read more about the plot when you read my review and so let’s switch to talk about the characters. In one interview, Kent was asked which kid he liked writing about most. He said Petunia, because he shares a lot of traits with her in terms of their school experience. They both felt lonely, lost in their own world, and like an outcast. Kent was also asked which teacher he liked most writing about. He responded Dr. Dragonbreath, because he’s the character who tells readers: Scary School is no joke. Dr. Dragonbreath is the most fun, but also the most dangerous. He’s the one who has no problem eating kids and will come up with any excuse to do it. What are some of your memorable school experiences?

Want to know more? Hop on over to the school tour at the website. While there, read the info about the teachers and students of this unique school. Finally, take the Scary School quiz and then let us know if you receive an invite to attend. 🙂

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