Under Books, Bridges, & Other Stuff by Adam Borba
I spent most of my childhood under things. Underwater during the scorching summers growing up in Palm Springs, California. Under the kitchen table reading and doing homework. Under my older brother’s top bunk. And most importantly, under a rotating pile of books that covered my bed.
I was a quiet kid who loved to read. Loved to be transported to fantastic lands or Anytown, USA where protagonists navigated everything from the seemingly impossible to everyday challenges. I grew up treasuring books by Louis Sachar, Roald Dahl, Beverly Clearly, Jerry Spinelli, and Judy Blume. Books that made me laugh, by authors who didn’t shy away from emotion. Books that have stayed with me for decades, that I’ve gone back to again and again, that I can’t wait to share as a dad with my own kids. Though I enjoy and read “grownup” fiction, I constantly find myself returning to middle-grade and being more invested in those characters and stories (I suppose it’s equal parts finding it easier to root for kid protagonists, and never completely understanding what other adults are supposed to do or talk about). Devouring middle-grade novels as an adult has led me to the incredible work of authors like Rebecca Stead, Jason Reynolds, and Kate DiCamillo in more recent years. Authors who write for younger audiences, but whose stories, characters, and themes are compelling for readers of any age.
Sleeping under that pile of books as a kid allowed me to live in the worlds those authors created just a little bit longer. Instead of plowing through the latest adventures of the kids at Wayside School in a single night, I could spend ten pages with them before traveling with James and his Giant Peach for a chapter, then touch base with Henry Huggins or Ramona Quimby before drifting to sleep. Why only spend an evening or two with Maniac Magee when you can visit him and Wonka’s Chocolate Factory nightly for an entire month? And then fall asleep under the weight of a dozen books – I can’t think of a better way to be tucked in. Throughout history and certainly now, kids need a place where they can go to tune out their worries and concerns for a while – a book (or a pile of books) to get lost under.
My love for reading led me to want to tell stories of my own. To bring more heart, humor, and magic into the world. To transport others like those books transported me. To be a storyteller. First with puppet shows as a kindergartener. Then short stories throughout my adolescence. And eventually working with talented writers, directors, and artists while developing and producing films for Walt Disney Studios as an adult (Peter Pan & Wendy is up next – coming in 2022!), and now, finally, writing middle grade fiction well. It is an honor and immensely fun to have the opportunity to contribute to the genre that led me to fall in love with stories and storytelling.
As an adult, I’ve found myself under deadlines, under pressure, and figuratively underwater. On a trip to Pittsburgh, where I fell in love with its people, food, and architecture, I found myself under one of the city’s gorgeous 446 bridges. 446 bridges take up a lot of space so, beneath that bridge, I had to wonder: what else might be under all those bridges?
That question led to the premise of The Midnight Brigade.
It’s a story about a quiet kid named Carl Chesterfield. Carl is the smallest boy in his class. His jeans all have holes and his hair is cut by his mother. He doesn’t have any friends. His mother’s awful haircuts don’t help. His shyness doesn’t either.
Carl is a keen observer. The first to notice who is having a great day. Or who is feeling sad. He watches. He listens. He processes. He empathizes. He forms conclusions. And he wishes he was bold enough to speak up and share those thoughts and feelings, but he can’t quite find the courage. He wishes he could be honest with his father about the family’s new (and failing) food truck, reach out to a potential friend, or alert others to the fact that monsters might be secretly overrunning his hometown of Pittsburgh. Carl has plenty to fret over. And plenty to question.
When a flyer for a mysterious monster-seeking group called the Midnight Brigade catches his eye, Carl sees an opportunity to find answers. And that flyer will lead him to an extraordinary discovery under one of Pittsburg’s bridges – a giant troll named Frank.
The Midnight Brigade is about a lot of things – integrity, belonging, empathy – but at its core, it is about a kid who learns to come out from under his shell. It publishes September 7th and will fit perfectly on the end of a bed.
Adam Borba is a writer and film producer from California. The Midnight Brigade is his first novel.