Simply 7 with Ryan T. Higgins–“We Will Rock Our Classmates”

If you’ve been waiting as long as I have for the sequel to “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” then today’s Simply 7 is for you!

Not familiar with “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates”?  gasp It’s one of my favorite picture books of ALL time (yes, I DO have a list).  You can read more about that book here in a previous blog visit with Ryan.

Ryan1Not familiar with Ryan T. Higgins?  Really?  I’m sure you must be by now!  He’s a very funny writer (and a pretty funny guy too).  He’s written quite a few bestselling picture books like “Mother Bruce” (another favorite of mine) and all its sequels.  He’s also written board books and early readers.  And he loves a good laugh.  Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to his books.  Follow him on Twitter to learn more about him (or Instagram or Facebook).
COVER“We Will Rock Our Classmates” is a wonderful sequel to “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates.”  It is more time spent with Penelope in her school and family settings and that alone is worth the read.  But all of the subtle inclusions in the story (that sneaky sense of humor only adults will get) among many other things really makes this one a worthy read.  I’m definitely adding this to my classroom collection!

In fact, I have to share a laugh.  I saw the first page of the book and recognized myself instantly in Penelope’s character.  Can you guess why?

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Somewhere there is a 3rd grade picture of me (almost as tall as my teacher) standing at the back of the class, taller than everyone else that looks almost exactly like this.  Except I’m not a dinosaur.  In fact, that may be EVERY class picture of me as a kid growing up.  I was always put at the back of photos because I was always the tallest.  No surprise when you come from Vikings and Sasquatches (I joke about the Sasquatches).  But seriously, I’ve always stood out in a crowd.  So I knew this was going to be a story I could relate to, even just on this level. But there’s so much more to the story than just this.

Welcome back to my blog Ryan!

Me: After the amazing success of “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” were you already planning a sequel?  What made you think of Rock-N-Roll as the next plot leap?

Ryan: First, thanks for having me!  Second, that’s very nice of you to say. Third, not really.

I did not set out to make multiple books about Penelope. And even after her first book’s success I didn’t really plan on making a second story for her. Then, one day, she just walked into my head dressed as a rock star and I had to write a story about that. It wasn’t until I after I wrote the first draft that I thought about how it would fit in with Penelope’s storyline. To me, this book is about overcoming self-doubt and being yourself—which is something we all have to deal with. In her first book, Penelope learns how to make friends. In her second one, she learns how to be seen by them for who she is. And also, I really like Rock & Roll.Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 12.47.04 PM

Me: In this book, you have continued to develop Penelope’s character and her family (as well as her classmates).  Do you foresee continuing to do so?  Will there be future Penelope books we can look forward to?

Ryan:  I will only make another Penelope Rex story if an idea pops in my head that I can’t NOT write. Currently, I have a couple Penelope ideas that are vying to be at the top of my pile. I expect one of them will win out and hopefully I can make a book out of it.

Me: Awesome!  I’m SO happy to hear that.  I love the diversity of Penelope’s classmates, even in an obviously fantastical environment.  There are different races, different abilities, and different religions present in the classroom and school assemblies.  Was it important to you to represent as many human differences as you could in Penelope’s school?  Or were you trying to make sure that all kids could see themselves in this series?  Or both?

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 12.46.28 PMRyan: Both. Books are for all children and it’s important for all kids to find someone they can relate to inside a story. I want readers to relate most to Penelope, but since there are no dinosaurs reading my books, I felt it was important to make all the other characters as diverse as possible.

Me: I love that. What is one thing that surprised you in the making of this book?

Ryan: I was surprised by how hard it is to figure out the correct way to write “rock ’n’ roll” in a sentence. 

Me: LOL!  I can only imagine!  You have now branched out into early readers and board books, as well as picture books.  What future projects that we can look forward to from you? 

Ryan: More picture books and a new line of sort-of-early readers that we’ve been calling “Little Bruce Books” that are half way between a board book and an early reader. I’m very excited about these. They’re just funny little ideas based on simple themes that don’t fit into a picture book format, but need a little more space than a board book. Plus, I got to design a fun Bruce seal to go along with them! 

Me:  Ohh!  That sounds fun!  I love the “My Talent is…” end papers in this book.  Are they again drawn by real children?  Were they done before COVID-19 shut down schools?  Or how did you get them?

Ryan: Thanks! That all started with Penelope’s first book, where I had real kids draw dinosaurs for me. I had to follow it up with more like them. Since this book revolves around a talent show, it seemed fitting to have kids draw their talents. It was fun and inspiring to look through what all the kids drew for me. The drawings were made before the COVID-19 shut down by a bunch of kids I know.

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Me: Aww!  I love that inclusion.  When you were a child, what was your talent” or most loved past time?

Ryan: Drawing. I’ve always loved to draw cartoons and make up stories. Aside from that, I used to pretend I was a paleontologist and I got really good at digging up rocks and telling my family they were real dinosaur bones.

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LOL!  Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to track down this book, and you’re ready to laugh and bond with Penelope once again, I highly recommend tracking this book down.  It takes multiple reads to catch all of the humor hidden in it.  It’s well worth the read.

About jenabenton

I'm an elementary school teacher, writer, illustrator and storyteller.

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