- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Andrew Clements, a successful children’s author, told a class of 17 senior literature students at Springfield High School that a good book makes the reader want to know what happens next.

What happened next for Clements, SHS Class of 1967, was that he was inducted as the 53rd member of the school’s Hall of Fame during a school assembly.

Clements, who moved with his family from Camden, New Jersey, to Springfield in sixth grade, has written more than 80 children’s books, about 35 of them novels. He credits Bernice Rappel, his 12th grade English teacher, with teaching him how to read books and making him work at his writing.

Rappel still lives in Springfield but was unable to attend Clements’ induction ceremony.

“She was the first teacher I had who made me read and write and challenged me,” said Clements, who already was an avid reader. “But she taught me how to read books, that every word is there on purpose and represents a decision somebody made.”

“She was a great big, tall scary red-headed lady,” Clements said. “She was a dangerous kind of funny and loved books, loved literature.”

As one of his assignments, he had to write a mock epic poem. Mrs. Rappel told him it could be funny, so he decided to go that route with a poem about President Lyndon Johnson, who was then overseeing the Vietnam War.

“I got an A+,” he said. “She must have been a Republican because she wrote on it, ‘This is so funny it should be published.’ She changed the way I thought about myself as a writer.”

Clements’ books usually involve schools, teachers and children, particularly fifth- and sixth-graders. The protagonist of his most successful novel, “Frindle,” is Nicholas Allen, a fifth-grader.

In his efforts to one-up Mrs. Granger, a tough language arts teacher who is a stickler about the dictionary, he comes up with a plan to invent a new word.

To Nick, a pen becomes a “frindle.” And soon, it is a “frindle” to more and more people and is out of Nick’s control.

“My publisher printed 2,500 copies in the first run,” Clements said of the novel, which has a long list of awards attached to it. “There are now about 4 1/2 million copies in print.”

“All it takes is that one person,” he said. “And it often takes a lot of persistence and hope to get to that one person.”

He told the literature students that all of his books are written in a certain way - one word at a time.

“Life all happens one day at a time, one thought at a time,” he said.

His latest novel started with a very simple idea, he said.

“It’s about a kid, a reader, like me, who gets in trouble at school for reading too much,” he said. “When you’re reading and you have to know what happens next, that’s how I am as a writer. What happens next?”

He explained to the aspiring writers that writer’s block, the inability to put meaningful words on paper, is an imaginary condition.

“It’s accepting that nothing can happen next,” he said. “It’s just not true. Something will happen next - it’s a fact. You just have to sit down and make something happen next.”

Mark Mittelstaedt, the head of the SHS English department and teacher of the advanced literature class that hosted Clement, said his students were interested in Clements’ message.

“A lot of them are interested in writing, so it was neat to hear what they would ask him,” Mittelstaedt said. “I could tell from looking at the kids they were interested in what he was saying.”

Clements, who now lives in Maine, was living in Westborough, Massachusetts when “Frindle” was written and published in 1996. He said elements of the fictional town of Westfield, New Hampshire, came from Springfield and Westborough.

“It’s drawn from my life as a kid, from my life as a teacher in fourth grade,” he said.

Clements graduated from Northwestern University and National Louis University and taught school in the Chicago suburbs before leaving with his wife and young son for New York to become a singer-songwriter.

“That didn’t work out,” he said. “But I learned discipline that helped make me a writer.”

He said one of his latest novels, “The Map Trap,” features characters whose names are actual towns in Illinois.

“The time I spent in Springfield was very important to my life as a writer,” he said.

The Springfield High School Hall of Fame was established in 1967 as a gift from Carrol C. Hall and Dorothy Sivia Hall, both graduates of SHS.

The recipient gets his or her name on a walnut panel in the Main Hall of the school.

“It’s hard to get on that board,” said John Connolley, SHS’s athletic director who was showing Clements and his wife around the school Monday.

The award is presented each year to a graduate who has achieved national eminence, who has been graduated for a minimum of 25 years and who attended SHS as a junior and senior.

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Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/1MUb7UU

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com

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