How did Chris Grabenstein find the emotional heart of Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game?

When I am writing for Middle Grade readers, I try to remember how I felt (not what I did) when I was in Junior High School, which is what they used to call middle schools back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

I often flip through my Jr. High yearbook to find photos that help me feel the feelings I felt when I was 12 or 13. These are the yearbook pictures that led me to the emotional heart of Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game, Mr. Lemoncello’s origin story, which takes place in the summer he turns 13.

The accepted way to be cool when I was 13 was to play sports. My father really wanted me to be a football star. I even took his old jersey number—11. There was only one problem. I was the worst athlete to ever set foot inside a middle school. Or any school, really. That look on my face? I know I don’t belong with that team.

But, when I was 13 I also had three solid years of reading MAD magazine under my belt. I discovered that I really liked fooling around with words and making readers laugh. I joined the Junior High School newspaper staff. The faculty advisor Mrs. Garrett encouraged my silliness. I even wrote a parody advice column called Dear Gertrude.

Mrs. Garrett was also my 7th grade English teacher. One day, she scribbled these encouraging words in the margins of one of my homework papers: “You will make your living as a writer someday.”

She was the mentor who helped me find my path in life, which was pretty much set after Mrs. Garret gave me that margin scribble. In the new LEMONCELLO book, Luigi is lucky enough to find a mentor who points him in the right direction, too. And yes, that’s my 13-year-old happy face in the Newspaper Staff photo because, with help, I’d found my happy place.

By the way, Mr. Lemoncello’s All Star Breakout Game, the 4th book in the Lemoncello series, is dedicated to my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. June P. Garrett.

Hear the Songs from 1968 Mentioned in Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game!

Here’s a playlist of the five songs mentioned in the prequel.

Chis had fun writing the WALX scenes because he worked his way through college as a disc jockey at a Rock ’n Roll radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee called W-149.

Take a listen to Chris on the air back in the day…

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