The other night, I went to a bonfire. My friends and I were talking about favorite books from childhood, when one of them said, “I got to meet the author of My Teacher is an Alien once.”
That, intrepid readers, would be Bruce Coville, an author I have never met, but whose books shaped my childhood and my brain.
Bruce Coville is from Syracuse, New York, and he once worked as a gravedigger. I remember reading that on the back of one of his books when I was younger and thinking, “This guy is so cool.” Coville’s writing style is humorous, friendly, and well-crafted. He is prolific, but he doesn’t sacrifice quality for quantity.
I’m also constantly impressed at authors who can write as a different gender and get it right. Bruce Coville’s female characters don’t feel like caricatures, which is refreshing.
The first Bruce Coville book I ever read was The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed, which is a Nina Tanleven book. Nina Tanleven is a spunky sixth-grader with a tendency for solving ghostly mysteries; her dad makes cookies and says goofy things, and her best friend is a girl named Chris. When my mom bought me my copy of The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed, she also made a rule: I was not allowed to read it after dinner, because I would have nightmares. I think she made this rule because I had a big brass bed. Guess what: I read it after dinner (sorry, Mom) and I didn’t have nightmares. Instead, my Goosebumps-loving brain wanted to know more and more about ghosts, and I wanted to read more and more Bruce Coville.
There are two more Nina Tanleven books: The Ghost Wore Gray and The Ghost in the Third Row. Both are equally good. The former is about a Confederate soldier’s ghost, and the latter is about a murdered actress. I really liked The Ghost in the Third Row because I was a theater geek; plus, theaters are inherently creepy.
My Teacher is an Alien is the first book in another of Coville’s series, and it is excellent. Susan knows her substitute teacher is weird, but when she catches him peeling off his face, she learns that he is an evil alien. She and her friend endeavor to save their classmates and the world. The other books in the series go into more depth about the alien world. One thing I love about Coville is that he doesn’t dumb it down for kids. I remember being challenged by some of the concepts in My Teacher Flunked the Planet (the last book in the four-book series); reading things that are a little difficult for you can improve your reading skills and open your mind. I think this series would be an excellent pre-read for kids who might be interested in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when they are a bit older.
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher is one of the Magic Shop books (another one is Jennifer Murdley’s Toad). The Magic Shop is a place where you can find almost anything, and you probably will. As a kid, I was enthralled with the idea of being friends with, or even raising, a magical creature. In Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, the eponymous main character buys a dragon egg from the Magic Shop, not expecting anything, but hoping that something wonderful would happen. And it does. This is every kid’s dream.
“Am I Blue?” is a fantastic short story that was published in Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence, edited by Marion Dane Bauer. It’s a collection of short stories for young adults about coming out as gay or lesbian. Coville’s story is about Vince, a kid who constantly gets beaten up for being gay, even though he’s not sure if he is or not. A fairy godfather named Melvin comes to the rescue and gives Vince three wishes. His last wish is to turn all gay people in the world blue. Instead of people being either non-blue or bright blue, Coville acknowledges in this story that sexuality is a continuum; some people in Vince’s life are bright blue, some are light blue, some aren’t blue at all. It’s a funny, touching story in a great collection.
Have you read anything by Bruce Coville? Let me know in the comments!