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The Secrets to Ruling School
(Without Even Trying)
By Neil Swaab
Sept. 1, 2015
It’s the first week of middle school, i.e., the Worst Place in the Entire World. How do you survive in a place where there are tough kids twice your size, sadistic teachers, and restrictions that make jail look like a five-star resort? Easy: with the help of Max Corrigan, middle school “expert” and life coach. Let Max teach you how to win over not just one, but all of the groups in school, from the Preps to the Band Geeks. Along the way, Max offers surefire advice and revealing tips on how to get through universal middle school experiences like gym class, detention, faking sick, dealing with jocks and bullies, and acing exams (without getting caught cheating).
In an innovative format that is part narrative and part how-to, acclaimed illustrator Neil Swaab has created a hilarious new reading experience that is reminiscent of video games and sure to engage even the most reluctant reader.
Praise for The Secrets to Ruling School
Max’s proposed campaign and Swaab’s oblique storytelling style are equally engaging.—Kirkus Reviews
This [book] is for kids to pass around gleefully. Kids who, in Swaab’s/Corrigan’s words, “just want to make their horrible lives a little better.”—Vice.com
What three words best describe your book, The Secrets to Ruling School?
Funny. Engaging. Helpful.
Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give The Secrets to Ruling School a try?
Jam-packed with comics, jokes, short chapters, and secrets to beating school combined with a narrative where the reader is actually a character in the story (like a video game!), The Secrets to Ruling School is a blast of a book that even the most reluctant reader will tear through in no time.
Grab a copy of The Secrets to Ruling School and answer the following:
Chapter 22. The one where you learn how to fake being a tough kid. I am the least tough person I know, so I love reading that chapter.
Page 35. I love the joke of Max showing how to fake being a good artist by making his lunch a performance art piece.
The cafeteria spread on pages 44-45. I really enjoy drawing detailed crowd scenes like that and it was so fun to get to visualize all the different lunch groups together in one location.
flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentences teaser?
Page 74. You (the reader) and Max must purchase all the school’s chocolate bars to help with the football team’s fundraiser and the only one who can loan you the money is the richest girl in school. However, it’s going to take something truly inventive to get her to bankroll your operation. Luckily, Max Corrigan has you covered . . .
What inspired this book? How did the idea for The Secrets to Ruling School come to be?
First off, I wanted to write something really funny for a middle school audience. Then, I started thinking back to my own middle school days and things that I wished I’d known at that age. I like the idea of “beating the system” so I started working on something in that vein that would be heavily illustrated. Once Abrams got their hands on it, they helped me to hone in on the idea that it was specifically for middle school and to add the fictional narrative into the book. So it was a combination of a few different things.
Can you tell us a bit about your hero, Max? What makes him unique, what do you love about him?
Max is like an eleven year-old Ferris Bueller. He’s one of those kids who has an answer for everything. And he’s always one step ahead of everyone else. Max rarely buckles under pressure and uses his smarts to get ahead. He’s charming, has a can-do attitude, and knows how to handle himself in any situation. He’s a character I wish I could be more like.
Max has plenty of tips and advice on how to survive middle-school...what was the most important thing you did to survive middle-school?
Did my homework! I wasn’t exactly the coolest kid, or the most athletic kid, or the most telegenic kid. But I could excel in the classroom and that gave me an advantage that still helps me today.
What is your all time favorite middle-grade book and/or character?
Well, Harry Potter of course! Such a great story and character. And a world that you want to keep revisiting.
What do you love about writing middle-grade books? Why do you think middle-grade literature is so popular and important?
I love getting kids excited about reading. Reading is a gateway for future success. Literacy and imagination are important for so many things that come later in life. And if I can help a kid—particularly one who’s never been interested much in reading—discover just how awesome it is and get them interested in books, it gives me that really warm, fuzzy feeling.
I think middle grade is so popular and important because that’s the age where lifelong habits and worldviews start to get set. Middle-grade aged kids are just beginning to develop their own identities. They’re amazing, fascinating people. And they have rich stories to tell in their own worlds. And it seems now—more than ever—stories are connecting with them in ways they haven’t before.
Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at making home-made nachos. In my household, I’m known as the Nacho King.
I’m really embarrassed to admit I’m mildly terrified of driving. Living in NYC, I rarely do it so every time I go out of town and have to drive, it sends me into a panic.
The last great book I read was an untitled manuscript by Jennifer Park about Bigfoot, romance, and town secrets. I can’t say more about the title since it’s not published yet, but it hooked me right away. I’m lucky because I make art for lots of book covers so I get to read a ton of manuscripts well before anyone else!
If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Secrets to Ruling School, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
It would be a decadent chocolate. And inside, there’d be a secret layer of fudge you never expected. And, somehow, it would only be 50 calories! It would be called The Cupcake to Rule All Cupcakes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is a freelance illustrator, art director, cartoonist, and writer who lives in Astoria, NY and works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. His work has been recognized by The Society of Illustrators, Print Magazine, Communication Arts, American Illustration, The Type Directors Club, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is also an adjunct professor at Parsons the New School for Design where he teaches in the Illustration Department.
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