A precocious young journalist who’s been running her own newspaper since she was seven is about to make her print debut as the star of a new children’s book series, focused on her real-life scoops.
At 10, Hilde Lysiak is already an intrepid reporter who knows how to work a beat and cultivate sources, hopping on her bicycle to pedal through her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pa., where she brings the Orange Street News to more than 700 monthly subscribers, and many more who check her website for frequent updates and video exclusives. She recently took time out of her schedule to give PW a tour of her home and a glimpse at her homemade news empire.
Hilde’s own newspaper grew out of a homeschooling assignment after the family moved to rural Pennsylvania. “It was a rule in my family that we had to write every day. And I wanted it to be something fun, so I started writing little stories about my family. Originally I had it on notecards and I wrote it in crayon,” she said. Her early computer-assisted works were feel-good stories, including a front page write-up on the birth of her baby sister, and a piece on a wild bear in town with images sourced online. But Hilde quickly turned her attentions to grittier stories, including a recent exposé on drug use in the local high school.
Hilde earned international attention last year after she unflinchingly covered a violent murder by hammer, scooping a nearby print daily by a couple of hours, then defiantly took on her critics via YouTube. Before long, Hilde was trending on Facebook, appearing in the New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review, and getting handpicked to interview another extraordinary minor, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai. Now add to her list of accomplishments: published author.
With help from her father, former New York Daily News reporter Matthew Lysiak, Scholastic editor Katie Carella, and illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff that Hilde says “bring the story to life,” her adventures have become fodder for Hilde Cracks the Case, a new six-book series that follows her alter-ego on Harriet-the-Spy-esque quests to solve mysteries and report the facts. Along the way, young readers will learn the bones of reporting—always seeking to answer: Who? What? Where? When? Why? And how?—from the early reader chapter books. “Which I think is perfect because all six- to eight-year-olds are curious, and curiosity is the key to reporting,” Hilde said.
All of the books were inspired by real stories. With Hero Dog! kicking off the series on September 12, readers will be introduced to Zeus the dog and the mystery of the Bake-Off Bonanza. The pooch’s real-life counterpart is somewhat larger and less of a sleuth, but some aspects of the tale were inspired by a 2015 article Hilde wrote about a dog by the same name, who used his ferocious bark to scare off a would-be burglar and protect his sleeping owner.
Sadly, the Bake-Off Bonanza is pure fiction, she said. But many of the details, like Hilde’s “I <3 free speech” pin, and her sister and photographer Izzy, are real. Many of the anecdotes, including Hilde braving the rain outside the police station only to have the officer on duty refuse to tell her where the crime had occurred, are culled from her own experience. “I went to the police station and they wouldn’t give it to me, so I knocked on every door in the 400 block,” she said.
As for the fictional Hilde, “there aren’t really a lot of differences. She’s a lot like me. In the book I have a huge sweet tooth, which is true in real life. I’m really nosy, which is true in real life. I’m a reporter, which is true in real life.”
At one point in the book, the fictional Hilde pulls out her notebook and starts jotting down an exchange when two neighbors launch into an argument, “which is exactly what I do in real life,” the reporter said. Not all of Hilde’s top stories are fit for print in the series. The irony that arguably her most famous story coverage—the hammer homicide—isn’t appropriate for a children’s audience isn’t lost on the young author. “A lot of the crime stories aren’t really for kids,” she said.
Hilde takes her duty to the community seriously, generating news stories about four days a week—although her parents, much to her chagrin, insist she take weekends and summers off to just be a kid. “I’m really eager to get back to reporting,” she said during a tour of her office, where a whiteboard marked “Story Ideas” already had a parking complaint and other potential leads scrawled in bright ink, despite it being the off-season. “To watch her ask questions is really beautiful,” her father said, although Hilde never lets him tag along when she’s on the job, so he has to wait for the video updates like the rest of her audience.
With the fictional works, adults have been very helpful, Hilde said, in penning stories that ultimately teach other kids how to become reporters just like the series’ hero. “Obviously my dad helps me a lot. I can’t really write a book by myself yet,” she said, noting, however, that she had final veto power, which she wielded anytime a piece of dialogue or another detail felt out of place or unrealistic. Still, there’s plenty of absurdity tossed in, like turning her beloved neighbor Sue’s husband into a pet swine. “We made him a pig in the book, just for humor,” Hilde said.
She hopes that by introducing children to her alter-ago, her hard work will ignite other young imaginations. “I think these books will inspire a whole new generation of kids to be reading more and writing more and maybe even reporting,” she said. “It’s really exciting and really surreal because I never thought I’d be an author—especially not at 10.”
Hero Dog! (Hilde Cracks the Case #1) by Hilde Lysiak and Matthew Lysiak, illus. by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Scholastic, $4.99 Sept. 12 ISBN 978-1-338-14156-6