“I got an early start,” said Gordon Korman, with modesty and no exaggeration, about the fact that The Fort, a middle-grade novel due from Scholastic Press on June 28, brings his tally of novels for young readers to 100. An exceptionally early start, in fact: the author wrote what became his debut novel at the age of 12, as part of a seventh-grade English project.

When he and his classmates shared the stories they had written, Korman received rave reviews from his classmates and teacher. “My friends said, ‘Wow, this is like reading a real book,’ ” he recalled, “and my teacher, who was also the school’s track-and-field coach, actually called it ‘a novel.’ ”

Buoyed by what he labeled “a weird sense of confidence,” Korman, who grew up in Thornhill, Ontario, polished up his manuscript and “randomly” sent it to Scholastic Canada, hence triggering his inaugural encounter with what he described as “publishing time.”

Four decades later, Korman realizes that after submitting his book, he experienced an understandable “ignorance is bliss” interlude that fell short of blissful. “Because I was a kid, I wanted to be living in the moment, but it was four months before I even heard back from the publisher,” he said. “In some ways, I regret that I was so burningly impatient, but now I think back at how incredibly lucky I was.”

It was, indeed, a propitious career launch. This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall was published by Scholastic Canada in 1978, during the summer following Korman’s eighth-grade year (when he was already writing his second book), and Scholastic released the first American edition in 1979. “When I graduated from college, I was able to write for a living,” he noted. “It was not a particularly handsome living for a time, but I supported myself, which I have done for 44 years. Now I feel so very fortunate in so many ways.”

A Fleet Fast-Forward

Ninety-nine novels later, Korman’s The Fort, for which Scholastic has announced a 50,000-copy first printing, introduces a cast of five eighth graders and a plot interweaving themes of survival, trust, and friendship. In the wake of a devastating hurricane, the protagonists discover a trap door deep in the woods, unearthed by the storm. The door leads to an abandoned bomb shelter, equipped with electricity and food, which becomes their hideout, where they learn that the only way to be true friends is to reveal their secrets and help each other out.

As has often happened with other books over the years, the inspiration for this novel came from a discussion over lunch with Korman’s longtime editor, David Levithan. “In this case, it was a virtual lunch, due to the pandemic,” Korman said. “We were kicking around a few ideas, and I said that I liked the notion of a story about kids having a place that is 100% theirs—a clubhouse or a fort. That is something basic and elemental to kids, and once the idea surfaced of having that hideout be an abandoned fallout shelter from the Cold War, many of the specifics fell into place. I felt that the most important thing the novel needed was a really believable group of kids.”

Building the Fort

Trading ideas with Korman over lunch “has always been a lot of fun,” Levithan said. And clearly productive as well. “Gordon and I are always melding ideas that one of us throws out, and it ricochets in other directions,” he added. “We knew this was Gordon’s 100th book and it had to be something special. Out of curiosity, I asked him what his version of a contemporary spin on The Outsiders and Stand by Me—the gold standard of stories about group dynamics among boys—would be.”

Korman did not disappoint. “I loved how he came up with a story that blends eras and has so many layers,” Levithan said. “The fort is a literary manifestation of secrets of the past, and Gordon brings each character’s secrets to life and intersperses them in the story with such humor.”

Humor is, in fact, a requisite element of Korman’s writing for children, no matter what the genre. “I always consider myself a humor guy, and I think that might suit me even better when I am writing a more solemn, serious story about truths that are not too pleasant. I like to approach those topics from a position where I can find lighter moments.”

An Auspicious Look Ahead

Levithan predicts a bright creative future for Korman, given his shrewd insight into kids’ interests and reading tastes. “When you talk to anyone about Gordon Korman books, the phrase that often comes up is ‘kid-friendly,’ ” he said. “Gordon has an extra instinct for how to tell a story so that kids will connect to it easily. Maybe it is because he started writing as a kid, or because he visits schools so often and is so good at gauging students’ reactions, or because he has kids himself. I think that all of these ingredients together let him distill elements and convey them honestly to readers on their level, no matter what the theme.”

True to form, Korman has another book—his 101st—already scheduled for release: The Superteacher Project, due from HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray in January. Revealing the author’s knack for comedy, the plot centers on a new middle-school teacher who, Korman noted, “seems a bit too perfect—and knows what the class troublemakers are going to do before they do.”

The novel is edited by Alessandra Balzer who, like Levithan, has worked with Korman for more than 20 years. “Not many authors can say that they have not one but two longtime editors,” Levithan said. “That is a wonderful testament to Gordon and to what a joy he is to work with.”

The Fort by Gordon Korman. Scholastic Press, $17.99 June 28 ISBN 978-1-338-62914-9