Dan Gutman of Haddonfield, though 59 years old, is a child at heart. One would have to be to be the well-known author of children’s books such as “The Kid Who Ran for President,” “The Genius Files,” “Baseball Cards Adventures” and the “My Weird School” series.
When Gutman isn’t writing, he gives presentations to schools in his free time, which is one of his favorite parts of the job. Gutman gave one of his entertaining presentations to Moorestown’s Our Lady of Good Counsel School on Wednesday, June 3 where he talked to children about his books, the process of writing a book and following their dreams.
“It’s kind of fun. You’re treated like a celebrity when coming to schools. When at home, I’m treated like a regular guy,” Gutman said with a laugh.
“We’re very excited he is here. The kids love his books. They’ve been looking forward to it all year, and they’ve all been reading his books,” Librarian Kristen McKeaney said.
When Gutman was young, he hated to read because he thought it was boring and hard. It wasn’t until fourth grade that Gutman, who loves sports, wanted to know more about them, and the only way he knew how to do that was to read. It was then Gutman consumed every sports book he could get his hands on, and his love for reading began.
After college, when he realized he didn’t want to be a psychologist or a photographer, Gutman began writing. He had been writing since 1978, but his first book wasn’t published until 1985, and he didn’t start writing children’s books until 1993.
“It makes you feel so good to write some silly words on a page that can change others’ lives for the better. And that is why it feels good to do what I do,” Gutman said.
Gutman now travels to schools talking about his books and popular series, while giving the children a little lesson. He weaves information about his books in a fun and creative presentation while slipping in information such as the process of creating a book and how to write a story.
For his book series “Baseball Cards Adventures,” Gutman spoke about his first publication experience with “Honus & Me,” also teaching the children the process of creating a book and how to react to rejections.
To do this, he tells the story about how he came up with the idea of a boy who had the power to travel through time through a baseball card. For “Honus & Me,” the boy used the rarest baseball card in existence, the 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card valued at more than $2 million, and went on an adventure with Wagner. He then explained his research and writing process before talking about how he sent his manuscript to multiple publishers, many of whom rejected him. However, HarperCollins wanted to publish his book.
“I get rejected a lot. But did I give up? No. Never give up,” Gutman said.
The book was very successful, and he was asked to write a sequel. He wrote about famous players such as Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Satchel Paige and Ted Williams. The final book in the series is on Willie Mays, which came out in March.
Another lesson he taught the children was rejection does not mean you give up. Instead, he wants them to never give up and keep trying, especially if they’re passionate about it.
“I hope in your lives, when you get rejected for something someday, I hope you don’t quit either. You never know what might happen if you stick with it,” Gutman said.
Gutman used “The Genius Files” series as an example on how to write a story. According to Gutman, he wanted to write an action-adventure series about two children going on a road trip, who are being attacked by a bad guy. He talked through the crazy and interesting characters and settings, how he let his imagination run wild, and how he got his main characters in and out of trouble. And of course, starting and ending the books “with a bang.”
He finished by speaking about his “My Weird School” series, which he was inspired to write by wanting to write a series like “Judy B. Jones,” but from a boy’s perspective. These books talk about the crazy adults in school the main character A.J. encounters. They include the art teacher, principal, nurse and even the town mayor.
McKeaney hopes children who saw Gutman’s presentation walk away with some of the lessons he had to give.
“I hope they take away from his visit all of the things about writing he had to say, and even if you get rejected, keep trying and you’ll succeed,” McKeaney said.
Though Gutman’s presentation taught children some lessons. Gutman doesn’t feel stories necessarily need a lesson or message. Instead, he wants children to just love reading.
“I don’t like to put messages in my books. All I want to do is captivate kids so much that when they pick up a book … two hours later they might look up and think, ‘wow that didn’t even feel like reading. That felt like a I was watching a movie in my head.’ And that is what I am trying to accomplish by getting kids excited about reading,” Gutman said.
Gutman’s next “My Weird School” book, called “Ms. Cuddy Is Nutty!,” comes out on June 23. He is also working on a new book about the Titanic, though it is just beginning. And Gutman doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I’ll probably keep writing books until kids stop reading my books and publishers stop publishing my books. I love what I do,” Gutman said.
Gutman will be at the opening for the new Haddonfield book store called Inkwood Books on June 20 at 1 p.m. to sign books. The bookstore is located at 31 Kings Highway East in Haddonfield.
“I try to support local bookstores when I can,” Gutman said.
To learn more about Gutman and his books, visit his website at www.dangutman.com.