Dave Barry has had great success writing juvenile humor for adults, but the Miami newspaperman says his “second act” is even more satisfying: writing juvenile humor for actual juveniles. The Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist will deliver a talk at Children’s Institute titled “I Don’t Want to Grow Up”—fitting for an author who, with Ridley Pearson, added to the Peter Pan canon with their Peter and the Starcatchers series, which was adapted into a Tony Award–winning Broadway musical.
Barry’s latest book, The Worst Night Ever (Disney-Hyperion), is the second in his Worst series; the first, The Worst Class Trip Ever, chronicled the same characters’ worst-ever field trip, to Washington, D.C. He launched the new book in April at Books & Books, a Miami independent bookstore, where he was introduced by a sixth grader. “[She’d] read everything I’d ever written and was just vibrating with excitement,” Barry says. “When you write for kids, you find those kinds of readers all the time. I just wish I knew how to make more of them.”
As he does for many of his newspaper columns, Barry finds inspiration for his work for young readers in the wacky moments of real life. “It was extremely helpful when I started writing this book, which sends [protagonist] Wyatt and his friends to high school, that my daughter, Sophie, was starting high school at the same time,” he says. He expects to write at least one more Worst book, as soon as he can crib a new plotline from something that happens at his daughter’s school, he says—only partly in jest.
In the meantime, Barry has been touring and taking his wild and crazy stories to schools across the country. “That never happened when I was a kid—we never had an author come to our school,” he says. “But now a book tour for a children’s book means you go to a school and meet 300 or 400 sixth and seventh graders at once.” His goal is “to win them over to our side, the side that’s reading, and you can almost see it happen.” Barry adds: “You get them into your story—I use a lot of slides, an idea I stole from Ridley—and they’re always willing to listen. It’s less boring than math.”
Barry often tours for his adult titles, but says it’s not the same: “[Young readers] react so honestly. They don’t pretend to be interested if they’re not.”
Barry is optimistic about the future of bookstores and reading. “I mean, getting 100 people to a bookstore compared to how many people there are in the world is nothing, but when I do signings, a lot of people still show up,” he says. “And it always amazes me because people have to make an effort to get up, go out, drive to Coral Gables [where Books & Books’ flagship store is] or wherever, when they could easily decide to stay home instead.”
Barry continues to write for the Miami Herald and plans to cover the Olympics and the political conventions this year, as he always does. He’s particularly interested in the Republican side of the race because, like having a daughter just starting high school, it has provided him with a lot of good material. “Of course I’m voting for Trump,” he says. “I’m a humor columnist.”
Dave Barry will give the breakfast keynote on Thursday, June 23, 7:45–8:45 a.m., in the Salon E Ballroom.