Author of the 2.5 Million-Copy Bestseller FRINDLE
To The Readers In Pennsylvania
To all the children, teachers, librarians, and parents of Pennsylvania:
First, thanks. It was a thrill for me to come to Hershey PA and accept the Pennsylvania Young Reader's Award in person on May 6th. The many members of the PMLA made me feel so welcome, and I made them all promise to carry my gratitude back to their schools all over the state.
The response to FRINDLE has been especially satisfying to me because the people who seem to love it most are those I feel closest to--kids and teachers. It's not an accident that FRINDLE is about stuff that happens mostly at school. I think schools are endlessly interesting. Each one is like a little city with hundreds of citizens, and each person there--kids and teachers, administrators and support staff, each bus driver, each custodian, each parent dropping a child at the curb--everyone has a story to tell.
When I was a teacher, I loved the incredible energy of kids, and came to deeply admire my fellow teachers, many of them already decades into their careers. These dedicated professionals used all their talents and creativity to channel that raw energy and make great learning and memorable experiences for their students. The seven years I spent teaching in the public schools have become the well I now dip into as I sit down to write new school stories.
It's very fitting that I got the idea for FRINDLE one day in 1989 when I was standing in front of about 120 first graders and a handful of second graders at an elementary school in Littletown, Rhode Island. I was teaching a little about the way words work, and about what words really are. I was trying to explain to them how words only mean what we decide they mean. They didn’t believe me when I pointed to a fat dictionary and told them that ordinary people like them and like me had made up all the words in that book—and that new words get made up all the time.
I pulled a pen from my pocket and said, “For example, if all of us right here today said we would never call this thing a “pen” again, and that from now on we would call it a . . . frindle, then in five or ten years, frindle could be a real word in the dictionary.” I just made up the word frindle, and they all laughed because it sounded funny.
There was one boy in the back of the room who didn’t believe me. He frowned and shook his head, and said, “Nah—that’s impossible. You can’t just make up a new word and have other people start using it.”
So I said, “OK. There’s a store down the street from the school where you go buy candy, right? So here's what you do: You walk in there after school today, put 79 cents on the counter, look right at the person behind the counter and say, ‘I need to buy a frindle.’ That person is going to look at you like you’re crazy, but say the word again—’a frindle.’ Say it two or three more times, and then point at the plastic container of pens. Next day, have a different kid go in the store and ask the same person for a frindle. Skip a day, and have a different friend do the same thing. Six days later when the fifth kid comes and asks for a frindle, what’s that person behind the counter going to do?”
Well, that kid in back of the room was right with me, and he got the idea—I could see it in his face. He blurted out, “He’s going to ask if you want a blue one or a black one!” That boy understood that for that person in the store, frindle would now be a real word. It would mean “pen.”
For a couple of years I told that same story every time I went to talk at a school or a library. Then one day as I was sifting through my life, looking for a story idea, I wondered what would happen if a kid started using a new word, and other kids really liked it, but his English teacher didn’t. So the idea for the book was born, and I even used that bit about the store as part of the novel.
Again, I thank you all so much for this great honor.
With all best wishes,