The Middle Kid and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Steven Weinberg
Of all the questions authors are routinely asked (Where do you get your ideas? How much money do you make? What’s your other job?) the easiest to answer is usually this one: How long did it take you to write your book?
Easy, because the answer is almost always, MY WHOLE LIFE. I mean, how can a book not be a product of one’s entire life?
Well, there are rare exceptions. One being my latest book The Middle Kid.
This book has taken me my whole life minus five years to write. Five years being how old I was when my younger sister was born. On February 12th, 1989 I stopped being a little brother and I became a middle kid. I also started writing and drawing this book.
The first drafts were pretty rough:
Please note the focus on not having to share!
That’s from my first grade notebook. My teacher had a booming voice and every day at the start of class she’d yell at us and say something along the lines of: SIT DOWN AT YOUR DESKS. TAKE OUT YOUR NOTEBOOKS. DRAW OR WRITE. BUT DO NOT MAKE A SOUND. (I really remember her emphasizing that last part. Maybe directly at me…)
Yelling aside, I really loved that part of my day. I got to do what I do now! I also got a break from the permanent frustrations of being a middle kid. Too old for this, too young for that. Generally in trouble. From reliable sources, I’ve been told I was a handful.
I think my book would never have moved beyond my notebook if not for one other book: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz. He’s my copy which I still have to this day.
It’s gotten a lot of use.
I’ve always loved how Viorst and Cruz capture the everyday misery of being a kid. There are so many forces working against you. Most notably your siblings! And you know what? It wouldn’t be any better in Australia!
The book was my guide when I set out (now, decades later) to write and draw The Middle Kid. Just like how Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was MY BOOK, I want The Middle Kid to be someone else’s book. To see a copy of The Middle Kid with a totally tattered, adoringly-ruined-by-some-middle-kid cover, would be my highest honor.
Practically speaking I knew I wanted my book to take place across a single day like Alexander’s. The book begins in a cramped and not tranquil bedroom. (Cruz fans will note I 100% copied that bunk bed/single bed layout.)
I also knew I wanted to convey how sometimes life is just unfair. Whether it’s a popsicle shortage or seemingly unjust time-out, these things matter.
Aside from the fact that I always wished Alexander was a middle kid like me, I also wished he had some kind of creative outlet beyond his misunderstood invisible castle in Mrs. Dickens’ art class. (It’s a blank piece of paper.) So I made sure to let The Middle Kid make art, like I did and still do.
I’m also very lucky to have a mom who is a librarian. So knowing how important books have been to me, I made sure to let The Middle Kid take a trip to the local library. Life’s hard! Books can help! (Did I mention the middle kid’s big brother locks him in a trunk? And yes, that one’s a true story.)
Finally, I should say I really do love my big brother Michael and little sister Elizabeth. Without them, and my parents refereeing, this book wouldn’t be possible. So thank you! But also sorry. Looks like I get the last word!
Steven Weinberg writes and illustrates kids’ books about hybrid animals, roller coasters, beards, and chainsaws. He is the author/illustrator of such titles as The Middle Kid, Rex Finds an Egg! Egg! Egg! and You Must Be This Tall. He is the illustrator of the AstroNuts series, written by Jon Scieszka. He lives in the Catskills in New York with his family. stevenweinbergstudio.com @steven_draws.