Writer uses blood, guts and gore to connect kids to days of yore
Award-winning author Jim Murphy visits Stone Bridge Middle School
Award-winning author Jim Murphy, of Maplewood, talks about the writing
process during a PTA-sponsored visit to Stone Bridge Middle School on
LAUREN CASSELBERRY Young readers who usually pass
on nonfiction may never do so again, now that they know books about
giant disease-sniffing rats, diapers for parakeets and George Washington
losing legal documents are not fiction.
Two-time Newbery Honor Book- and Sibert Award-winning author Jim
Murphy visited the Stone Bridge Middle School on March 25 and intrigued
students with the little-known facts he has discovered while writing
stories about explosions, killer germs and other cataclysmic events that
shaped the course of American history.
“Who can resist a giant fire or an unstoppable disease?” Murphy said.
“I want my nonfiction to be as exciting and readable as any novel, so
I’m always searching for topics that are inherently dramatic.”
The Maplewood resident, who has authored more than 30 books about
American history, including “The Crossing,” “Truce,” “A Savage Thunder,”
“An American Plague,” “The Great Fire” and “Blizzard,” candidly spoke
with students about his voracious appetite for researching interesting
topics to create provocative, entertaining and educational literature
for young readers.
“When people talk about research, it sounds kind of boring,” Murphy said. “I consider it detective work.”
Murphy said he loves scouring libraries for firsthand accounts of
“what really took place” and hunting for odd, interesting and sometimes
bizarre details to include in his books. When Murphy gets to a point in
his research where he can create a mental image of a particular place in
time, he begins the writing process.
“The actual writing is much harder for me,” Murphy said. “I want the
sentences and books to be as good as they can be. I write one sentence
at a time. I rewrite and revise. And I do this with every sentence and
every paragraph I write.”
Murphy told students that researching a book can take him three to
five years, and writing the first draft can take one to two years.
“After this, there are revisions and more revisions, and then the
book has to be designed and scheduled to be printed,” Murphy said. “It
helps to be patient in this business and work on several projects at
Murphy said history is an endless succession of fascinating stories
just waiting to be discovered and told, and his role is to make the
voices of the past come alive again in hopes of teaching the young
readers of today a lesson.
“Adramatic situation is nice,
but history really comes alive when I can use the firsthand accounts —
excerpts from letters, memoirs, journals, diaries, and recollections —
of people who were actually there,” Murphy said. “These voices help
readers experience events as if they were actually there. Hopefully,
they also not only shed light on those events, but also help us better
understand who we are today.”
He added that he often features children in his books “because kids —
even very young kids — weren’t just observers of the events that shaped
our nation’s history. They often participated in an active, heroic way
and then wrote eloquently about their experiences.”
PTA representative Donna Furda organized Murphy’s visit in hopes of
engaging students with reading material that they may not normally take
an interest in.
“History books are books kids usually pass up on the shelf,” Furda
said. “But the way he talks about history, I wouldn’t be surprised if
the kids all want to take his books out of the library on Monday.”
Prior to the PTA-sponsored author visit, Stone Bridge Middle School
librarian Shannon Manigrasso introduced students to a few of Murphy’s
books in the school library. She also co-coordinated a competition in
which students were asked to submit an essay on the topic “If I were a
historical author, what time period, event or person in history would I
The winners of the contest were Carly Roche, KaileighMcLaughlin,
SaraGutter, Mari Kay Hannon, Tommy Krosnowski, Nick Stagnetti, Adrianna
Amaro and Michael Gagliardi.
Furda thanked everyone who entered the essay contest.
“We had many great entries, and everyone should be commended for their hard work,” she said.
Contest entry winners had lunch with Murphy after he gave two
30-minute presentations with question-and-answer periods in the school
auditorium that he concluded with, “Go out and read books, and you’ll
find books that you really will love.”