Alec Greven makes it look like child’s play. In the span of a year, the nine-year-old author has gone from self-published book fair bestseller to national media darling, and has three books arriving between now and next May. This month HarperCollins’s Collins imprint will release the first, How to Talk to Girls, based on a book Greven wrote at the age of eight, for a school assignment.
In the picture book, which features interior art by Kei Acedera (her first children’s book as well), Greven, a fourth-grader from Castle Rock, Colo., offers suggestions about dealing with girls and crushes (“It is good to give a girl compliments. Don’t go crazy with them though. Then you look like you are trying too hard”), as well as observational “statistics” based on his experiences at school (“About 73 percent of regular girls ditch boys; 98 percent of pretty girls ditch boys”).
This isn’t HarperCollins’s first children’s book written by a child—Nancy Yi Fan’s novel Swordbird came out in spring 2007, when she was just 13. But according to editor-in-chief Kate Jackson, child authors are a rarity. “We get a fair amount of proposals from child writers,” she says. “You admire their spirit and intention but most are frankly not publishable.”
How to Talk to Girls began as a class project last year, and picked up steam through a long series of connections: Greven’s teacher passed it on to the school principal, who encouraged Greven to bind the book (a local binder, ExactBind Rocky Mountain helped out and Greven sold copies at his school’s book fair) and then sent it to the local news station, 9NEWS, an NBC affiliate. The station recorded a segment with Greven, which was passed along to The Ellen Degeneres Show, and Degeneres had the boy as a guest on her show this past February, to discuss his book. (See a clip from the show here.)
Alec Greven discussing his book on The Ellen Degeneres Show earlier this year.
But the story didn’t end there. The show’s producers had contacted HarperCollins (along with other publishers) about the possibility of arranging a meeting for Greven, and Jackson agreed, though she had not heard of the boy or his book at that point. In March, Greven visited the HarperCollins office with his mother. “He told us his vision for the book, why he wrote it, how it came to be,” Jackson recalls. “We knew from the [Ellen Degeneres] clip, and really when we sat down with him, that this was something we wanted to do.”
Executive editor Toni Markiet edited the book, and Jackson says that they treated the project like any other. “He came in with a pretty full manuscript—parts of it worked perfectly from the get-go, and there were parts that needed to be added to and rephrased,” Jackson says, adding that Greven was a “speedy” reviser. “The only thing that was different in working with Alec is that his mother was involved.”
Harper acquired How to Talk to Girls at the same time as one of two planned sequels, How to Talk to Moms, which is scheduled for publication on March 17. “We asked him, ‘How about a book about how to talk to boys?,’ ” Jackson recalls. “He said, ‘That wouldn’t really be a book for me to write, but how about a book for moms? I know how to talk to them.’ ” A third book, How to Talk to Dads,will follow on April 21. Greven is donating a portion of his advance for the second and third books to the charity Stand Up 2 Cancer, an organization for which he hopes to eventually raise $100,000.
Jackson suspects the book will be a popular impulse buy at Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and its format—7x7 paper over board—was designed with the gift market in mind. Diane Mangan, director of children’s merchandising for Borders, cites the book as one of several picture books she expects to do well this holiday season, noting that adults respond positively when she describes the book’s concept. “Every time I talk about this book to any group of adults and say it’s a book about talking to girls written by an eight-year-old boy, it gets a laugh.”
Greven will make media appearances in support of the book, including a return trip to The Ellen Degeneres Show (Dec. 1), as well as The Today Show (Dec. 4); print media and a national radio and TV tour are in the works. Jackson says Greven is media-ready: “He’s very charming, very articulate, and he believes completely in what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. Those are the things you look for in a writer of any age. The fact that he’s nine makes it all the more extraordinary.”
How to Talk to Girls by Alec Greven, illus. by Kei Acedera. Collins, $9.99 ISBN 978-0-06-170999-9 Nov.