Steven B. Frank is a writer and an educator. But as much as he loves what he does, his original plan wasn’t to be a writer at all. Luckily, after doing tons of reading and finding his passion, Steven did become a writer and is now sharing his talent through his middle-grade novels!
We were lucky enough to get our hands on a copy of one of Steven’s books, Class Action. You can check out what we thought about the novel below:
Review of Class Action by Steven B. Frank
In a world of common core curriculum and the emphasis that standardized tests and AP scores are more important than learning itself, homework has become a problem. Kids are being told that they can’t be kids. They spend their afternoons, evenings, and weekends working on homework, only to spend all of their other time on schoolwork. In Class Action, one kid realizes that not only is this not fair, but it’s a violation of his rights as a kid.
Class Action is filled with a sense of coming together, working hard, and using critical thinking. Kids are often portrayed as dumb, weak, and lazy by adults. But many of us know that that’s not true. Kids are capable of so much and their voices need to be heard. Author Steven B. Frank does a marvelous job of showing that kids can come together (along with some adults) to make a difference.
It’s not just a story meant to prove that actions need to be taken though. Beyond all that, it’s simply a good novel and an entertaining read. This novel is a wonderful, entertaining, rollercoaster of a ride type of story. It shows how siblings can connect with each other. It shows a sense of coming together. It demonstrates that everyone has a story to be told, even if that story only begins with a kid wanting to build a treehouse with his dad. There are so many beautifully simple, yet relatable aspects to this story that makes this novel feel possible in the real world.
Kids can rise up and make a difference. They can recognize problems and work hard to fix things. Class Action needs to go on your must-read (NOW) list. It’s beautifully written and incredibly original. It’s for anyone of any age and will be one of those novels you’ll want to read again and again, on any day, in any place. It’s just that good.
Q&A with Steven B. Frank
After reading Class Action, we were able to chat with Steven B. Frank. We learned about his teaching career, his love of “hybrid” authors, and what inspired him to write his novels. Check it out here:
To begin, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I write books and I teach 6th grade English. My students love paradoxes—we even have a Paradox Poster hanging in our class. One of them decided to put me on the Paradox Poster because I spend half my time surrounded by kids and the other half of my time alone, writing. I tried to tell her I’m not really alone when I write because my characters keep me company. But she’d already put me on the Poster. I’m honored to be there. It’s good for people to be paradoxes.
When did you realize you had a talent and passion for writing? What inspired you to be a writer?
I was NOT supposed to be a writer. An actor, maybe. (Growing up, I was a great mimic of the adults in my life.) Or a tennis player ( I spent way too much time on the courts.) But the role of writer had already been claimed by my oldest brother, and the role of doctor had been claimed by the middle child. It wasn’t until high school, really, when my English teacher told me that I had a talent for writing, that I even considered the path. And it wasn’t until college, when I moved away from home and started to really read, that I thought, I’m going to write.
Can you tell us a bit about Class Action and why you were inspired to write it?
Class Action began with the sound of snapping twigs. It was as if a Maurice Sendak forest had grown in dining room of our home. There, at the table, I saw my then third-grade daughter breaking pencils in a rage against the Sudoku she couldn’t solve for homework. I started to pay attention—as a dad and as a teacher—to how much homework kids were getting. I found it to be excessive, and often not productive. Ironically, back in high school I had to do a term paper on the Supreme Court—for homework. My teacher told me I should go to law school and someday, maybe I’d become a Supreme Court justice. Well, I never made it to the Supreme Court, but my characters did.
Can you also tell us about another one of your novels, Armstrong & Charlie?
Armstrong & Charlie is the story of two boys—one black, one white—who find themselves elbow-to-elbow and fist-to-fist during the pilot year of desegregation busing in Los Angeles. The book, told from their alternating perspectives, shows how they overcome huge obstacles to become best friends. I love these characters because they were inspired by my own 6th grade year in the Hollywood Hills.
Why did you decide to write for younger generations versus adults?
The stories just came to me that way. Originally I wrote Armstrong & Charlie from the grown-up Charlie’s perspective looking back on childhood. But one night the character of Armstrong literally woke me up and started telling his side of the story in the present tense. I realized that a book about boys becoming friends should be told by the boys themselves, and that made it authentically middle grade. With Class Action, I heard the aching voice of Sam, a boy so overwhelmed by homework that he can’t play with his dogs or make music or build a treehouse with his dad. That voice made the book a natural book for kids. I have other voices in my head that belong to adults, so someday I’ll write books for them too.
Your background is in teaching, but you’re also a writer. Do you believe the two go hand-in-hand with each other?
I still teach and I love teaching because it keeps me in contact with minds that are younger, faster, sillier, smarter, freer, and zanier than mine. Do teaching and writing go hand-in-hand? For sure. The writer’s hand likes the reliable paycheck in the teacher’s hand; the teacher’s hand likes to share the many useful lessons about the craft and profession of writing with his students.
What is your writing process like and how you create your novels?
The story behind every book is as different as the story every book tells. I wrote Armstrong & Charlie to imagine the friendship I wished I had had with the boy who rode a long yellow bus into my life. The book came from memory and longing and took shape as I told my own children stories from my own childhood. There was very little research to do because those stories still live within me.
I wrote Class Action to imagine what would happen if kids just said, NO MORE, to the thing that was stealing their childhood. Because that book involved a real-world whatif (what if kids could sue to stop homework?), I had to do a lot of research on our legal system and the process of actually taking a case to the highest court. In the real world, they would need help. So in the book I created Mr. Kalman, a retired (and cranky) neighbor whom they have to win over and enlist in their cause. Real-world legal language can be twisty and sophisticated. I had to create a funny sidekick for Sam, a character who might need things to be explained in kid-friendly terms. And so Alistair was born.
For me, a book also has to have a strong emotional chord. While I was writing Class Action, my oldest daughter was applying to college. I knew her siblings would miss her when she went. So I built the Sadie/Sam relationship around that time of life when your older sibling moves away.
As far as “process” goes, one thing I do is walk. I deliberately park 30 minutes away from my classroom so that I’m forced to walk before and after school. I don’t just think “on my feet” but through them: as I walk I think about what I’m writing, and I make notes on my phone. Then, during my writing sessions, these notes become paragraphs and pages that get revised over, say, 2 years and 30 drafts, always with input from trusted readers and my editor.
Which writer and/or novel has inspired you the most and why?
No single writer. But I am inspired by the hybrids. Norton Juster (writer-architect); Chekhov (writer-doctor); Gary D. Schmidt (writer-professor); Lauren Wolk (poet-author-arts administrator); Shakespeare (playwright-actor-producer). As a hybrid myself, I look to others to show me how it’s done. Most inspiring novel? One without words: The Arrival by Shaun Tan. It’s perfection on the page. And one with words: The Giver by Lois Lowry. Dystopia is not my genre, but year after year, this novel disturbs and inspires young minds.
Is there a fun fact about yourself that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?
I teach at a French school, and I make a killer chocolate meringue cookie. The recipe is embarrassingly simple, but you have to promise not to tell my colleagues. One of them ate my chocolate meringues at our annual June potluck and, in an accent heavy with absence from home, said, “It is not possible for an Americain to make a meringue so good as these. My own mother, who is pure French, tried, and she failed miséarbly.”
What has been the biggest struggle for you as a writer?
The one I am in right now: rewriting the third novel.
What advice would you give to struggling writers out there who are trying to accomplish their dreams?
Write your first draft by hand. Don’t read yesterday’s pages until tomorrow’s are written. Make friends who read and recommend books.
What do you want kids to learn most from your novels?
That “kid-thinking” is creative thinking and can solve big problems. Also that reading will stay with you longer than Fortnite.
What’s been the most rewarding part about writing for kids?
Receiving emails and handwritten letters from kids who told me they loved my books.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
Wherever my characters take me.
Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?
Run outside and play.