David Lubar has captivated kids with such wacky characters as Campfire Weenies, Red Hot Pepper Weenies, and Road Weenies, and he has even more humorous hotdogs up his sleeve. Tor’s Starscape imprint recently announced it has acquired two more of Lubar’s Weenies story collections. Due in 2012 and 2013, these still untitled middle-grade books will be the sixth and seventh additions to the series, which has more than 1.7 million copies in print. Starscape will release the fifth installment, Attack of the Vampire Weenies: And Other Warped Creepy Tales, on May 24.
The debut of the Weenies series was “quite serendipitous,” Lubar explains. In 1995, he published two short story collections with Tor, Kidzilla: And Other Tales and The Witch’s Monkey: And Other Tales. In 2003, when Tor launched Starscape, an imprint devoted to middle-grade science fiction and fantasy, it reissued those collections together in a single volume entitled In the Land of the Lawn Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy Tales. The book was an Oprah Children’s Reading List pick in 2010.
That title sprang from one of the stories in the book, inspired by Lubar’s observation of his compulsive lawn-mowing neighbors. “My role in the universe is to make my neighbors’ lawns look good,” he quips. “As I noticed all these seemingly hypnotized people driving their lawn mowers, with almost too much passion, I saw some great opportunities. I envisioned them as hotdogs—landscaping lawn weenies.” The image was a hit with readers, and each subsequent book in the series includes a Weenies story—and gives the volume its title.
Lubar often hears that his books have successfully snared the attention of reluctant readers. “I didn’t set out to write for the reluctant reader audience,” he says. “I write what I like to read—stories with action, humor, dialogue—and if it turns out that that is what reluctant readers like, that’s great. There was no grand scheme on my part, but I do get a huge amount of satisfaction hearing stories of even one child who didn’t read but now does.”
Also contributing to the success of the Weenies books is their eclectic combination of stories. “I like to mix it up,” says Lubar. “I may have a terrifying vampire story followed by a parody of a fairy tale followed by a science fiction tale and then a fantasy. I am fortunate to have an editor who can take whatever I dish out in my manuscripts. Some stories are horrifying in an amusing way, or amusing in a horrifying way. I have never heard her say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ ”
That editor, Susan Chang, is happy to give Lubar free reign. “David is a master of the short story and has a huge range of appeal,” Chang says. “His stories vary so much. And with more than 30 stories in each book, they are very short, so there is definitely that appeal to reluctant readers. I always describe his books as having a kind of weird Twilight Zone wackiness—some stories are light, some are dark.”
Chang, who concedes that she “may have a fourth-grade sense of humor myself,” praises Lubar’s ability to connect with kids in person as well as on the page. “He is often on the road, talking to classrooms of kids, and he is able to reach out to his audience on lots of levels,” she says. “He definitely talks their language.”
Her observation is echoed by Jane Clugston, children’s book buyer at Moravian Bookstore in Bethlehem, Pa., located not far from Lubar’s home. “The kids love David because he’s really like a big kid himself,” she says. “David is very fun, like his stories. They leave you laughing, and leave you hanging, and kids seem drawn to his books just as they’re drawn to him.” Clugston, who notes that Lubar’s books are strong sellers in her store, is looking forward to hosting the author again on June 10, at a vampire-themed party for Attack of the Vampire Weenies.
Lubar is also a popular guest at schools, where his presentations span a variety of formats. Patricia Ondic, media specialist at Central Regional Middle School in Bayville, N.J., comments that the author “has a good rapport with students in all situations. When he visited our school, he conducted a parent-student workshop, held a writers’ workshop with a small group of students, and gave a large presentation to all our seventh and eighth graders. He is excellent with kids.”
And what does Lubar think about being called a “big kid” himself? “I suppose there are parts of my life that indeed are childlike,” he replies. “My concentration can wander and I can get distracted by a fruit fly. But still, there are serious aspects of my life—I have to understand things like taxes and marketing. But given the choice of playing or working, I often opt for play.”
Attack of the Vampire Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy Tales by David Lubar. Tor/Starscape, $15.99 May ISBN 978-0-7653-2345-3