Squabbling 12-year-old twins Claudia and Reese engage in full-scale prank combat in The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other), the debut title of a four-book middle-grade series by Geoff Rodkey. Due from Little, Brown on April 7, the story unfolds as an oral history, using text messages, screenshots, interviews, digital gaming art, and smartphone photos to relay the interaction between the siblings, their friends, and their parents. Last month’s pre-pub meet-and-greet author tour with teachers, librarians, and booksellers launched Little, Brown’s six-figure marketing campaign and created significant buzz for the paper-over-board series, which has been sold to publishers in 16 countries.
Rodkey, who wrote the Chronicles of Egg middle-grade adventure trilogy and the screenplays for Daddy Day Care, RV, and the Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas, found his inspiration for The Tapper Twins close to home. “I primarily was trying to write a book my kids would want to read,” explains the father of three boys, ages nine, 12, and 14. He noted that his first series, set in a fantastical past, wasn’t a unanimous hit with his sons. “One loved it, one finished it and said, ‘heh,’ and one refused to read it,” he recalls. “That’s only a hit rate of about 50 percent.”
Rodkey scored higher with The Tapper Twins Go to War, which all three boys, he reports, “not only loved, but asked me to write the second book faster.” The author had no choice but to comply: given the series’ six-month publishing schedule, the twins’ second adventure, The Tapper Twins Tear Up New York (the cover of which is revealed here), will be released on September 29.
The novels’ inventive, composite format may well be the key to its appeal, Rodkey suggests. “The series was informed to a great extent by actually talking to kids, starting with my own, to learn what they do and don’t want to read,” he says. “I think these are very accessible books in the sense that they are really about kids as they are today. Most kids in the tween age group have grown up equally online and in the real world. I wanted these to be novels that kids will recognize themselves in.”
Further inspiring The Tapper Twins’ format were Rodkey’s own reading tastes. He admitted to having “a trashy addiction to oral histories of hard-rock bands of the 1970s and ’80s” and called Maria Semple’s 2012 Where’d You Go, Bernadette “probably the funniest book I’ve read in a decade. It’s told through primary sources, like e-mails, memos, and journals, and offers shifting perspectives. I thought this would be a cool way to do a kids’ book, and let the characters speak in their own voices in various ways.”
The Bellicose Twins Attract an Audience
Claudia and Reece found an early fan in Andrea Spooner, v-p and editorial director for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, who was immediately hooked on the series’ concept and format. She calls the story “an incredibly sharp and clever take on how both kids and adults think and communicate. I hadn’t seen any other middle-grade book written like this or reach this level of satire on social media. Geoff takes a holistic view of how we live in a digitally saturated world, while delivering a laugh on every page. This format is so well suited to his strength as a screenwriter, since bringing his characters alive through their speech comes very naturally to him.”
After reading Rodkey’s manuscript “literally right after I received it,” Spooner wasted no time passing it along to publisher Megan Tingley and deputy publisher Andrew Smith, who also warmed to the novel immediately and urged her to “get on this.” The editor did just that, and acquired the series in a preempt with Rodkey’s agent, Josh Getzler of Hannigan Salky Getzler.
Sealing that deal was “truly a team effort,” says Spooner, who recalls abundant, lively text messages – in the spirit of the novel – among staffers during the acquisition process. She credits LBYR’s marketing team for the “creative and a bit subversive” proposal they pulled together overnight, which riffed on the novel’s visual and narrative humor.
“We took the approach of, ‘If Claudia was marketing this book, what would she do,’ explains Emilie Polster, executive director of marketing. “We wanted to make it clear how well we connected with the book and how excited we all were about it. We are committed to continuing to build the buzz across all channels, including the toughest critics: kids themselves.”
In addition to Rodkey’s pre-pub tour, the publisher is backing The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other) with an announced 150,000-copy printing, a national author tour that kicks off on April 7, national print and online advertising, and promotion and advertising at major conventions.
Early response to the series’ launch title pointed to its appeal across a broad age span. Tegan Tigani, children’s book buyer at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, praises the book’s “innovative storytelling that supports a great story about sibling rivalry, revenge, and – eventually – empathy. The whole family will find something to giggle about in this.”
At San Francisco’s A Great Good Place for Books, event coordinator Carolyn Hutton describes Tapper Twins as “a fun series” that she looks forward to sharing with middle-grade customers, adding, “It’s great that subsequent books will be coming out so quickly, so our young readers will stay committed. Secretly, though, I loved the texts between the parents – they were all too familiar and hilarious!”
Rodkey added those parental texts tactically, he explains, since “I wanted to put a little something for everybody in the book. I’ve heard from a number of adults that they love reading those text messages, and that they see themselves in them. I tried to put just enough of them in that they don’t annoy the kids!”
Perhaps most gratifying to the author is that his three sons were anything but annoyed with his novel. “It was nice to discover that I’d actually succeeded in getting my kids to read a book, which in my house I’m afraid is not very easy to do,” he says. “That was definitely encouraging.”
The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey. Little, Brown, $13.99 Apr. ISBN 978-0-316-29779-0
The Tapper Twins Tear Up New York by Geoff Rodkey. Little, Brown, $13.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-316-29783-7