Michael Buckley, author of the Sisters Grimm and NERDS books, was an unexpected highlight at this year's Baltimore Book Festival. I should clarify that—it was unexpected for me, but not for my two kids. In a tent full of tweens at the Children's Bookstore Stage on Sunday, Buckley proved to be an incredibly funny and likeable guy, as he recounted his unlikely path to being a writer of children's books. He said he started out as a standup comedian—which became evident as he exhibited drop dead timing and a keen wit—and briefly interned for David Letterman. Buckley noted that he wasn't one of the "fun" interns and spent most of his time looking after Letterman's psychotic dog. He also wrote documentaries for the Discovery Channel, including segments on people living in tunnels below New York City (there are an estimated 3000-5000 "mole people") and sideshow performers who do things like swallow swords and breathe fire. He claimed to have dated a bearded lady, but backed away from that assertion. "She wouldn't go out with me," he said, smiling.
The kids and parents ate up every word.
He began writing the Sisters Grimm series after learning that the Brothers had a younger sister. "Can you imagine what her life was like?" he asked. Too lazy to research a period piece, he instead did "what all great and smart writers do," he said. "I modernized it." The results have been wildly popular, and when Buckley mentioned that the next installment would be the last, the audience let out a collective sigh/gasp. "I just felt all the air get sucked out of this tent," he joked, before adding that maybe he'd resurrect the Sisters someday. "If this NERDS thing doesn't work out, I can always go back to it."
And when asked about his favorite fairy tale character, he chose Pinocchio, but made a sharp distinction between the sweet boy with the singing cricket in the Disney film (doesn't like it) and the mean boy in the original Italian book (which he loves). "It's actually really funny, and the jokes hold up well, especially if you find a good translation," explained Buckley. "In the book, Pinocchio kills the cricket with a hammer... on page seven. And the cricket comes back to haunt him."
We bought two copies of his latest book.
[photo: John Lewis]