I’m thrilled to welcome Robin Mellom to the Mixed-Up Files. Robin is the author of THE CLASSROOM: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet Epic Kid, the first book in her series for middle grade readers, and DITCHED: A Love Story, a teen romantic comedy, both from Disney-Hyperion.
Here’s a little more info about the first book in THE CLASSROOM series:
A documentary crew has descended upon Westside Middle School to detail the life of an average seventh grader and his classmates. What they uncover, though, is far from average. Mostly, it is upper average along with moments of extreme average, highlighted by several minutes of total epicness.
Trevor Jones has been preparing for the start of seventh grade his entire summer. But he is NOT ready for the news his best friend, Libby, drops on him at the bus stop: he needs to branch out and make new friends. Oh, and he must ask a girl to the fall dance. By the end of the day.
Trevor decides that he would rather squirt hot sauce in his eyes than attend the dance. Everything changes, though, when he meets mysterious new student Molly. Trevor starts to think that going to the dance maybe wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. But with detention-wielding teachers, school gossips, and, worst of all, eighth graders conspiring against him, Trevor will have to do the one thing he wasn’t prepared to do: be epic.
Check out the amazing trailer for THE CLASSROOM!
How did you come up with the unique documentary style for The Classroom, and did you always believe it would be a series?
I started working on this story almost ten years ago, but it was in a different format with a combination of quizzes and interviews and pamphlets mixed in with the story. It’s been very dear to my heart for quite some time because it’s the story that won me my first SCBWI writing award and I went on to get an agent with this novel. But it wasn’t the book that landed me my first book contract. That book was my teen novel, DITCHED. Shortly after I signed my contract, I met up with my editor at Comic-Con in San Diego. He just happened to ask me about the first book I ever wrote and when I told him about my wonky little middle grade book with quizzes and interviews, he got very excited. He’d always wanted to do a mockumentary-style book. So I told him I’d take a stab at it. It ended up being amazingly easy to adapt my original novel to this format of a story with documentary footage and interviews. I had a blast writing it.
I sent in sample pages and they loved it! My publisher then asked me to write up a four-book proposal…a dream come true! Even though—let’s be honest—it was quite the challenge since I had never written a book proposal IN MY LIFE. I have a hard time just committing to a grocery list! What I ended up doing was studying plot summaries of TV episodes so I could see how they weave A and B plots together. As difficult as it was writing a detailed proposal, I will say it has helped me tremendously with writing the next book in the series. My roadmap is already done and I just get to enjoy the fun part of writing it!
What tips would Trevor, Libby, Marty, Corey, Cindy, and Molly each give to kids who are about to start middle school?
They are each so incredibly different, which is what kids will discover when they read THE CLASSROOM. Readers may identify with one of them or all of them in little ways. Here’s the advice each of them would give:
Trevor: Always know where the bathrooms are located and NEVER ask an eighth grader for directions.
Libby: Be loyal to your friends and make sure you have a good winter jacket.
Marty: Just chill, don’t talk to eighth graders, and bring a copy of Boys’ Life (in case you need to know how to survive a bee swarm, because you never know).
Cindy: Always be perky because people will like you. And when people like you, they tell you gossip. And when you know all the gossip, you’re even happier!
Molly: Do whatever it takes to NEVER get bored.
What are your favorite and least favorite memories of middle school?
My favorite memories are those fifteen minutes or so right after lunch when we had this strange amount of freedom and I don’t even know why we were allowed to have it. For some reason, when we were done eating, I remember they would let us leave the cafeteria and for the first time EVER we were allowed to roam the halls freely and just “hang out.” It was tween heaven. Oh my word, all the gossiping and the flirting. And then we’d go to the bathroom in large pods and put on MAKE-UP! (incorrectly) But whatever, it was the best.
Least favorite memory? The fact that those were the years I was growing very tall and my pants were ALWAYS one-inch too short. Ugh.
What are some of your favorite middle-grade novels, and why do you love them so much?
My favorite middle grade novels seem to either fall in the category of timeless/heartwrenching novels or totally hilarious. When I was a teacher, the book that completely hooked my fifth graders and had them BEGGING me re-read it over and over was Louis Sachar’s SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL. If it wasn’t for that book, I never would’ve made it through my first year of teaching alive.
The other middle grade books I love: Frindle, Holes, Because of Winn Dixie, City of Ember, Dear Dumb Diary series. I’m sort of all over the place! But all of those books have amazing voice and heart. And Dear Dumb Diary is just freaking hilarious. It just is.
Since you write both middle grade and young adult novels, I’d love to know what you think some of the biggest differences are between those genres.
I’ve heard it said before that middle grade is about trying to fit in and teen is about trying to set yourself apart and be different.
When I’m writing middle grade, I try to keep in mind that the characters are starting to form their opinions for the first time—they’re not jaded or cynical, they’re more observational. I’m constantly reminding myself to use restraint. Light strokes.
But with teen writing, my characters have deep thoughts and emotions about everything. So I’m constantly reminding myself to step on the gas!
Thanks for visiting us, Robin. I can’t wait to read more books in The Classroom series! Can you give us a sneak peek at some of the adventures coming up for Trevor and his friends?
In the next book, Libby and Cindy both run for student class president. And friendships get tested during this election! And somehow Trevor ends up in a hairnet. Disastrous, I tell you.
Book two has been VERY fun to write and some of the illustrations coming up in this one have me in stitches. I can’t wait!
One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of THE CLASSROOM: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet Epic Kid. Leave a comment below and our random generator will choose a lucky winner on Saturday, June 23. You’ll get extra entries for sharing a link on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
***Please mention each link in a new comment so the generator will add your extra entries. Winners must live in the US or Canada. Good luck!
Robin Mellom has taught grades five through eight and has a master’s degree in education. She lives with her husband and son on the Central Coast of California. Visit her website for more information.
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her eleven and fourteen year-old daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer pup who was recently rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s blog or follow her on Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.