Northampton middle schooler Henry Reade to sign first book
Henry Reade, a seventh-grade student at JFK Middle School, holds a novel he wrote at his home in Florence Monday. Purchase photo reprints »
Henry Reade, a seventh-grade student at JFK Middle School, talks about his novel "The Pencil Bandits" Monday at his home in Florence.
JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »
Nathaniel Reade talks about a novel he helped his son, Henry, write Monday at his home in Florence.
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NORTHAMPTON — Unlike a lot of 12-year-olds — and countless adults, too — Henry Reade “doesn’t seem to mind writing,” his mom says.
That’s an understatement, and here’s proof: Henry, a seventh-grader at JFK Middle School, has just completed his first book, a 190-page comedy/adventure story about a band of middle school-aged criminals.
“The Pencil Bandits,” which Henry penned with his father, Nathaniel, and self-published on Amazon.com, is “the longest thing I’ve ever written, except for a two-page paper,” Henry said.
“I had this idea and the story just evolved,” the younger Reade added during an interview Monday at his family’s home in Florence. “I never really thought at some point I’d have a book. But then it happened.”
Early “reviews” gleaned from a Survey Monkey questionnaire that he and his dad posted online are in the rave category, with 94 percent of those surveyed rating the book better than “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
On Thursday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Henry will sign copies of “The Pencil Bandits” at the inaugural JFK Mall, a fundraiser for the middle school’s After School Program. Proceeds from the $9-per-copy sales of his book will go to support the program, which offers after-school enrichment classes three days a week at JFK that have drawn 140 students this semester.
What led him to want to write an entire book?
“I like being creative,” said Henry, who has reddish-brown hair and a rangy, soccer player’s build. “It was fun to make something that was not just, like, cookies.”
He and his dad started working on an overview of the plot more than a year ago. “Then at some point, we just started to write the story,” Henry said.
He comes by his writing chops honestly. Henry’s dad, Nathaniel, is a freelance magazine writer and former editor of the now-closed Wondertime family magazine. His mom, Michaela O’Brien, is a publicist for musicians and authors.
Still, Henry has his own approach to storytelling.
“I’m an audience writing a book, not just a writer writing a book,” he explained. “I know what my friends want to read.”
That means books with lots of action, quirky characters and a sense of humor, said Henry, whose favorite subjects at school are history and social studies.
The genesis of the “The Pencil Bandits” was the comic book “pencil people,” characters that Henry and his friends used to draw in fourth grade. Over time, he developed a story line about Ticonderoga Faber, an 8-year-old who lives with his ailing factory worker father and two brothers in an abandoned school bus.
As the book jacket explains, Ticonderoga decides one morning that “contrary to what he’s been taught, honesty doesn’t pay. So he and his two older brothers, Eagle and Dixon, begin a life of crime.”
As do all good writers, Henry accepted ideas from many quarters — including his brother Charley, 8, who came up with some of the book’s place names and the idea of “dog orthodontia” for pets owned by the rich kids in the story.
Probably the hardest thing about the project was “the time that had to be put into it,” Henry said. He and his dad worked on weekends and in other spare moments. The bulk of the writing was completed over summer vacation.
What was it like to write with his father? “It was fun,” Henry said. Gesturing out the window, he added, “We’ve done other big things together, like that tree house out there.”
Nathaniel Reade said his son showed his author’s mettle when they emailed an agent early on about the book and were sent back a list of ways it should be changed to fit the young adult mold.
“Henry was adamant that was not how it was going to be,” the older Reade said. “It was great to hear him say, ‘This is my vision and I’m not going to change it.’ ”
Survey Monkey respondents suggested there should be a sequel to “The Pencil Bandits” — something the author already has in the works. “We’re planning a four-part series,” Henry said. “We already know how it’s going to end.”
Fans of traditional happy endings may be disappointed, though.
“I don’t like books where it all works out and the characters grow and change for the better,” Henry said. “That’s a nice idea, but it’s what happens in every single book. I don’t like it when they’re all the same.”