I recently had a sparkling conversation with 11-year-old children’s book reviewer, Erik Weibel, aka Erik the Great. Some may consider Erik too young to be considered a professional book reviewer, but stay tuned. His awesome accomplishments, discerning eye and interesting opinions absolutely freshen the conversation about writing.
A very cool fifth grader who attends public school in Pennsylvania, Erik is the kind of boy who is equally comfortable in a suit or tee-shirt. “Especially ones with funny sayings!” he says. Instead of watching TV, he spends much of his time on his popular blog, http://www.ThisKidReviewsBooks.com. Not only does he review novels appropriate for his age and younger, he saves one day of the week to celebrate Perfect Picture Book Fridays, and on Thursdays, he interviews Creative Kid Writers! He’s a contributing writer for the Upper Bucks Free Press and you can find this 11-year-old reviewer’s presence throughout the social media. Erik is also an up-and-coming writer. He’s drafted a 9300-word fantasy chapter book called, The Adventures of Tomato and Pea: A Bad Idea.
Sounds like a good idea to me. I wondered how many books he’s read or reviewed and he shared this story.
ERIK: Our school takes part in an Accelerated Reader Program where you read a book, take a test and get points. In my school, the goal for a fifth grader for all year is 50 points. As of today I have 1361 points.
Sue: But what about for your blog?
ERIK: I have no idea. People ask me this a lot. I started to keep track on my blog of the books I read because I read a lot more than I review. As of today, April 25th, for the month, I have 23 books on the list and I don’t always keep track of the picture books or comics I read. I read a lot and it’s hard to keep track.
Sue: I’m in awe of you, Erik, of your passion for literature, and the amount of time you spend reviewing books. There are a zillion other activities in which 11-year-old boys typically spend their time, but you prefer books.
ERIK: I have always loved books and was with them since I was a toddler. I started reading pretty early. My parents don’t watch a lot of TV so books, especially comic books, were very fun for me. I wasn’t introduced to videogames until age 8 when I asked for a “LEGO Indiana Jones videogame” for Christmas (and got it), but I didn’t have a consol, and so my parents got my sister and I a Wii.
Sue: Let’s talk about your process as a kid reviewer. Do you believe you create unique reviews? For writers and for your readers, why is your perspective different?
ERIK: I think mostly because I am a kid, and authors usually have adults review their book(s), and I provide what a kid thinks about the book. Sometimes I see things in a story an adult won’t think is cool or funny, but as a kid, I do.
Sue: What do you look for in a story that elevates it above others? Conversely, what turns you off immediately?
ERIK: There are a bunch of things that really get my interest. Setting, characters, plot, even illustrations.
I think a book that really makes you be able
to imagine you are in the story is the best.
Sue: At age 11, you instinctively get John Gardner’s idea of the Fictive Dream and its importance in a reader’s experience. So cool.
Erik: I also like books that teach you something without you knowing it. I like a lot of historical fiction because of that. A story that has an awesome character that I REALLY like (it doesn’t even have to be the main character) is also going to be one I really enjoy.
Cursing and over the top violence are immediate turn-offs for me. If a book has a lot of mistakes, it really bugs me. Sometimes if a book starts off way too slow it’s hard to keep going. Most of the time I read the whole book anyway, but it isn’t as enjoyable as I would like.
Sue: We writers strive to create unforgettable characters. What makes a character unforgettable to you?
ERIK: Great acts of something (kindness, heroism, etc), complete changes (for the better), unusual things about him/her (manners, speech, etc.), a kid who really believes in him/herself and/or being a person I’d want to be like or friends with.
Sue: I’m going to tape that answer to my laptop! I notice that you also review self-published books. What is your opinion of them? Do you see any changes in them since the advent of ebooks and the proliferation of easy book production—i.e. quality, level of editing, etc.
ERIK: I think self-published books are a great way to get your book out there. I read a lot of self-published books where I think the book is as good, if not better, than the traditionally published ones I read. On the other hand, I read a lot of self-published books that you can tell haven’t gone through an editor. I find a lot of mistakes – errors, typos, holes in the plot, etc. I hate to read a self-published book FULL of mistakes (a little is fine – nobody is perfect!)
Sue: Who are your favorite MG Authors? PB Writers?
ERIK: MG – Matt Myklusch, Rick Riordan, Brandon Mull, Michelle Isenhoff, Timothy Davis, Tom Angleberger, Gordon Korman, Jude Watson, Jerry Spinelli, Michael Buckley, Nick Bruel, Brian Jacques…(I can go on and on). Pretty much whenever a book by any of these people come out, I run to get it.
PB – Eileen Spinelli, Mo Willems, Susanna Leonard Hill, Sandra Boynton, Alex Latimer, Nick Bruel (again). Again, when I hear about a new book coming out by these people, I want to get it!
Sue: You’ve told me you want to become a writer. Which author would you pick as your mentor and why?
ERIK: Michelle Isenhoff, because she has given me writing lessons before and has been a kind of mentor to me already and Matt Myklusch because he’s awesome and nice and Rick Riordan because that would be awesome (and who wouldn’t want him as a mentor?) and…
Sue: I’m sure all of them would love to have you for a student. If you could pick any author in all of time to interview, who would it be and why?
ERIK: Rick Riordan because that would be totally awesome and I would LOVE it if that happened (although I might faint). I once got to meet him at a book signing and he was SO nice. I told him I wrote a book review blog and I loved his books. He asked me if I had any questions for him and I did. I had a whole list – and I forgot ALL OF THEM! I was so nervous! I blogged about it and Mr. Riordan must have read it because he mentioned it in his blog and told me the answer to one of my questions! I’d also pick Brian Jacques, but sadly he passed away in 2010. His Redwall series is my favorite series of all.
Sue: I have a feeling some day readers might faint to be mentored by you. Reading as much as you do, what trends do you see in the Kid Lit market?
ERIK: Messages about bullying and friendships and being yourself. These are great messages to have in stories and I’m glad there are more books about these topics. There’s also a lot of magic stories, not that I don’t like them, but there are a bunch.
Sue: Speaking of bullies and friendships, what do your classmates think of your blog and your enjoyment of reading?
ERIK: Most kids I know think it’s pretty cool that I have a blog. I’ve had friends give me things to post that they wrote or drew. I haven’t had anyone be mean about it, but I also don’t really brag about it or anything like that.
Sue: Erik, you are clearly a thoughtful young man and reviewer, which is making me a bit nervous about this interview. So. . . what do you think of my questions?
ERIK: They were really fun! (seriously) I think it is so cool that people actually want to hear/read what I say.
Sue: I have a feeling your answers will result in an uptick in the number of your followers. We adult writers clearly have something to learn from you.
NOTE: I asked Erik to come up with his own question and here it is:
According to popular belief, you are not actually an eleven-year-old kid but an alien. Is this true? If so, can you say “Hello there! My name is Erik! How are you?” in their language?
ERIK: No, this is not true. I am really an eleven-year-old kid, but I went to the alien planet Zorggagonxz. And yes, I can say “Hello there! My name is Erik!” in Zorggagonxzi.
Didfagvi fijigf! Sdgln pgiffk dsgfi Zerikk!
I know it’s different from “Erik”, but that’s how they say it in Zorggagonxzian.
Sue: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking to you, Zerikk. But before we end, and since there may be some agents and editors reading, want to pitch your book?
ERIK: Sure! For years the evil villain Wintergreen has tried to destroy super crime-stopper, Tomato, and his sidekick, Pea, and take over planet Oarg. In a plan gone wrong, Wintergreen and his gang tangle with Tomato and his friends in a runaway rocket ship that crashes on a strange planet called EAR-TH. Follow this brawling bunch of aliens as they try to get along, survive all the dangers on the strange planet, and find a way to get back to Oarg.
Sue: Is there anything else you’d like to ask?
ERIK: Gfdvn dfzj fogpd?
Sue: I’ll have to get back to you on that.
**Note: Because of Erik’s age, This Kid Reviews Books is monitored and maintained by his parents. All social media sites are registered to his parents. However, all content on and design of his site and social media sites is by Erik unless otherwise noted.**
To learn more about Erik the Great or his blog, go to www.thiskidreviewsbooks.com/