Once upon a time, in an elementary school in Kentucky, two elementary school teachers began writing stories. Debbie Dadey, a librarian, and Marcia Thornton Jones, a reading teacher, would spend their lunchtime talking about and creating stories. But then, one day … their writing careers converged and took off! Right there in the library!
Debbie and Marcia were having one of those days when the kids were, well, little monsters. Debbie (and Marcia) realized that unless they sprouted horns and grew ten feet, they’d never get the kids’ attention! Hmmm … a teacher who is really a monster … Voila! Vampires Don’t Wear Polka-Dots was born.
Debbie Dadey is the author and co-author of more than 125 books, including the Publishers Weekly bestselling The Adventure of the Bailey School Kids series (more than 25 million books in print). Debbie is as successful as she is prolific. Her books have won a number of awards: The Worst Name in Third Grade was named a 2008 Children’s Choice, International Reading Association; Whistler’s Hollow was named a 2004 Young Adults’ Choice, International Reading Association; the Bank Street College of Education Children’s Book Committee named Cherokee Sister a Best Children’s Books of the Year, 9-12 years for 2000, and it also made the Kentucky Bluegrass Awards “master list,” grades 3-5 (2001-2002).
RT: Welcome to the Reading Tub® and congratulations on the upcoming release of your new book series The Keyholders. I was watching the trailer for the first three titles. The music is wonderfully suspenseful and really grabs you. What has you most excited about this book?
Debbie: It’s been great fun creating not only a new ‘real’ world but also a magical one with dragons and unicorns. To help with the first two books, I drew a map of both lands. I must admit the magical land was much more fun to develop. Just drawing it gave me so many ideas for future adventures that I’d love to write.
RT: You have been writing chapter-book series with Marcia Thornton Jones for more than 10 years. Almost all of your collaborative work has been series books: The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, Barkley’s School for Dogs, Swamp Monster in the Third Grade, and now, The Keyholder series. With more than 125 titles, how do you keep the plots fresh? Do you ever find yourselves saying “nope, did that in X story” or feeling like you’re just filling in a template?
Debbie: I think that’s the danger of writing series, but also the appeal. There have to be some similarities because that’s what children are expecting when they read a series they love. But we certainly want to make it exciting not only for our readers but also for us. So we strive to push our characters on to new challenges, and ourselves as well. Most of my series work has been with Marcia, but The Swamp Monster in Third Grade series was done on my own.
RT: In 2003, you co-wrote The Slime War series (two titles) with your son Nathan. Has he been bitten by the author’s bug?
Debbie: He has. He recently told me that he is working on an adult fantasy story. It’s tough because he’s going to graduate school and working, but I can’t wait to read it when it’s done.
RT: The initial ideas for The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids came after a particularly “monstrous” day working in your school library. How many stories have been sparked by events you’ve observed or been in the middle of? And how many have come from kids running up (or emailing) to say “Mrs. Dadey, can you write about …”
Debbie: I do get lots of great emails and snail mail letters with marvelous suggestions for stories. I think probably every story has some element of truth running through it. I’m from Kentucky where practically everyone loves basketball, so in the new Keyholders series, Luke loves to play basketball. As a writer, it’s natural for things that happen to you and things you love to come out in your stories.
RT: Over the last 10 years of publishing and promoting your books, what do you see as the greatest changes? What do you fear the most in creating books for kids?
Debbie: Publishers are very much into series, which are great, but I do worry about the individual stand-alone book. They seem to be lost in the shuffle sometimes.
RT: Both your love for kids and your teacher roots come out on your website. I can’t say that I’ve ever visited an author website where the books are sorted by season or theme (like graduation). What intrigued me the most, though were the scripts you created for plays and readers’ theater. How important is this type of out-load reading for kids?
Debbie: My passion has always been helping reluctant readers. For me, plays and readers theatre are just another way for kids to experience books. That’s the same reason I have games and crafts. Maybe reading is hard for you, but you love to act out a part. So reading a script is something that you’re motivated to do. Anything I can do to encourage students to read is a great thing.
RT: Thinking about the teacher again, are there specific educational goals that you try to weave into your stories or do you write them “just for fun”? [Goals range from vocabulary and comprehension skills to life lessons and character development.]
Debbie: My stories are just for fun, but I know that anytime a child reads they are growing, both educationally and emotionally. The more they read, the more they grow. I taught school for eleven years, five in first grade so I believe reading is the single most important skill a person can learn. If you can practice while having fun it’s double the reward.
This goes into one of my concerns. Research shows the tremendous benefits of reading aloud to children, yet often times both teachers and parents don’t find time for it in their busy day. Of course, I’m preaching to the choir here because I’m sure your readers do make reading aloud to their children a priority.
RT: We certainly hope so! What were your own favorite books (if any) as a child? Did you see those same interests in your own children as they became readers?
Debbie: Not surprisingly my favorite books were series, particularly Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. My wonderful children are individuals and never let popular opinion sway them. My oldest son loves fantasy yet didn’t like to read until fourth grade. Parents, take heart: he scored the highest possible on his SATs in reading! My youngest son is very much into graphic novels. My daughter Becky was my biggest fan and even has her picture in several of my books, such as Sea Serpents Don’t Juggle Water Balloons and Mrs. Claus Doesn’t Climb Telephone Poles. She screamed when she saw the illustration.
RT: Most of your books are illustrated chapter books with a little magic, some mystery, and humorous events and characters. Yet you have also written historical fiction chapter books (Cherokee Sister) and picture books (Will Rogers: Larger than Life). If you could only write one more book, what would it be? Why?
Debbie: That’s a tough question because I love all those genres. Right now, I’m writing a historical fiction that also incorporates some mystery, humor, and magic. It’s called Ivy’s Song, so my goal is to finish it.
RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Debbie: Writing has opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve been places I’ve never dreamed I’d visit and had wonderful opportunities. When I visit schools I always try to stress that writing is everywhere. Actors don’t just make up the words in our favorite TV shows and movies-writers write them. The songs on our playlist, don’t just materialize-writers write them. Writing is fun, so I hope kids and adults everywhere give it a try. And of course, I hope they’ll check out my new Keyholder series.