Author James Patterson Wants to Make Children’s Books Less Boring (And Sell a Few Along the Way)
The best-selling author thinks the only way to get kids hooked on reading is to not bore them to death.
Author James Patterson isn’t known for literary work. He’s famous for creating detectives Alex Cross, and Michael Bennet, and other characters who populate and host of page-turners that have, for decades, made flights seem a little bit shorter and days at the beach seem a little bit more exciting. Patterson is in the excitement business is booming. He has sold over 300 million books, making himself one of the more financially successful storytellers on the planet. Now, he’s coming for the kids. The author is about to release Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment, a science-mystery adventure novel officially endorsed by the estate of Albert Einstein and wants to get kids hooked on reading by providing them with page-turners engineered for their pleasure.
“Something gatekeepers need to get through their heads is that we need books kids are going to enjoy reading,” Patterson says. “The original mission of my imprint was that when kid finished one book they’d say ‘I want to read another book.’ Kids not enjoying reading is a super serious problem.”
Oh, yeah, the guy has an imprint. It’s called jimmy patterson (all lowercase) and it’s a subsidiary of the Hachette Book Group conceived and created a few years ago. This is the imprint responsible for Hunting Prince Dracula, The Unflushables, Ernestine: Catastrophe Queen, and a new venture Patterson says he takes very seriously; Max Einstein. The 71-year-old novelist does not radiate childlike wonder when he talks about it. It’s clear that he has specific goals and that he plans on meeting them.
That said, he does want to meet those goals on his own terms — after all, he can afford to.
“I want to have enough science in there so kids understand more about Einstein than their parents do. But I didn’t want to bore them.” His new book focuses on Max Einstein, an orphan on her way to becoming a promising scientist, who is inspired by her iconic last name. “I wanted Max to be a girl. It doesn’t matter in some parts of the world. But there are some places where women are behind the eight ball in terms of thinking they can be scientists, mathematicians, and doctors,” Patterson says. “For me,” he adds quickly, “it’s the most important book I’ve ever done.”
Considering Patterson just co-authored a thriller with Bill Clinton, that’s saying something. And speaking of that book, Max Einstein isn’t so different from The President is Missing. The new grade-school chapter book may be a STEM project, but Max Einstein is ultimately a plot-heavy mystery in which the protagonist bumps around the world and faces a new twist on every page. The book is supposed to be educational, sure, but it’s also supposed to be fun. And Patterson is fine prioritizing fun because it teaches kids to enjoy books.
“It’s a silly point of view not to understand that part of what reading is is to be entertaining,” Patterson says. “It’s part of what writers do. People like different soap operas. Some people’s soap opera is Danielle Steele. And that’s valid. Some like The Corrections. And that’s another soap opera. And it’s all okay. It’s fine.”
If books are soap operas made of paper, Patterson contends that the fun, engaging kind can get kids excited about reading instead of watching nonsense on YouTube. Plot, he thinks, might be the antidote to disturbing literacy trends.
“The number of kids reading at grade-level in Florida is 43 percent. Best in the country is Massachusetts, but that’s only 60 percent,” Patterson points out.”If kids aren’t competent readers, how are they going to get through high school? When I go out and talk to big teacher and librarian groups I tell them I’m here to save lives. And I’m being honest about that. If kids can’t become competent readers, it cuts off a lot of job opportunities for them. And that’s when the anger starts to rise up.”
This is when Patterson stops himself. He’s getting caught up in the unfun stuff and what he really wants to be doing is making reading a blast.
“Come on,” he says like he’s grown tired of a wearisome argument. “Books are a really cool way to learn about how to live your life.”
Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment is out on October 8 from Hachette. You can pre-order it here.