Why I wrote The Hoopster
Let’s be honest. To a certain extent, we are raising a generation of non-readers. I hate to sound like an old coot but these kids today with their computers, their iPods, their cell phones and their video games, they are just not reading as much as they used to anymore. It’s as if Guttenberg never lived.
And the consequences are dire.
(Okay, I’ll concede that kids today are Screen-Agers. Yes, they are reading their screens all the time in a literal way but it’s not the type of reading that promotes critical thinking. It’s like eating Doritos for dinner. Yes, it’s food but it most certainly lacks vital nutrition and if salty chips are all you eat your health is most assuredly going to suffer.)
Goodness, I don’t even know who I’d be if I hadn’t read some of the books that I have in my life. And many adults, I realize, feel exactly same way.
Quick activity: List your top two or three favorite books of all time… and then X them out, as if you had never read them. Ask yourself, who would you be if you had never read these works? For me I can say without reservation that I’d be much worse off as a human being without these books in my life. From Dr. Seuss to Victor Hugo to the Bible to Walter Dean Meyers, I mean it’s almost unimaginable who I’d be without these texts.
This realization is what led me to write The Hoopster. Knowing how immense the positive impact of one simple book could be to the lives of my students – and knowing how valuable it is in this day and age to be literate and be a reader – well, that’s what got my juices going. I wanted my students to read books.
And I wanted to be the one to write “that book”, the one that would turn them on to reading and make them realize, “This is cool!”.
Heck, it had always been a secret dream of mine to become an author, a dream that I had somehow put on hold as I got older, took a job, got married, blah, blah, blah.
It was at this juncture of my life that I realized I was being confronted by my own hypocrisy.
I mean I spend my whole life telling people to go after their dreams, to reach for the stars, to not let anything hold them back from striving for the brass ring and yet here I was with a dream of my own and I wasn’t going to go for it? The irony was just too thick and I knew I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t at least made an effort.
So I set to work.
I outlined. I plumbed the depths of character. But really, my whole aim was to simply gain the approval of teenage boys – particularly teenage boys of color, the hardest to reach demographic of all. (Hey, why no shoot for the moon, right?) I mean these were the kids sitting in the chairs of my classroom anyway. I wasn’t writing for the critics. I was writing for a much tougher crowd. To gain the approval of multicultural middle and high school boys.
Now that would be the motherload!
Action. Suspense. Humor. Heart. I flexed every literary muscle I could. And then I handed my novel to Dontae.
“Yo Dontae, Man,” I said in a sort of California-causal way. “I wrote this book for folks like you and your boys. Would you mind checkin’ it out?”
I handed him the manuscript.
“Yeah, sure I’ll check it out, Mr. Alan,” he replied.
A day passed. Nothing.
Two days passed. Nothing.
A week went by.
You know how when you are waiting to hear feedback from someone about something and you start to get all itchy? Let’s just say it felt like I was wearing a wool sweater knit by a fat aunt with bad teeth and lots of caked-on make-up. At day 10, I cornered Dontae in the hall. (Obviously, maturity and patience are not my greatest strengths.)
“Yo Dude,” I said trying not to sound like an addict fiending for a fix. “Remember that book I gave you? Did you even read the first page?”
Dontae looked up at me with innocent teenage eyes, the kind of eyes that always remind teachers why working with kids is the most fulfilling type of job on the planet there is.
“Aw yeah, Mr. Alan,” Dontae said in a relaxed tone of voice. “I read it in two days. And then I gave it to Richard and he read it and gave it to Joel. I hope that’s cool.”
I paused, stunned.
Oh my goodness. They’re bootlegging my book around the school.
“Uh, yeah, Dontae, that’s cool,” I said, unsure of how to respond.
“Yo, when you gonna write another, Mr. Alan. Beats that boring shi… I mean stuff in the library.”
“Uh, I’ll get back to you, Dontae.”
And that’s how The Hoopster was born.