The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following interview was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News.
An acclaimed journalist and the author of 30 books for children, including more than two dozen sports books, Brad Herzog is no stranger to the book community. Famous for his heartening tales of off-the-beaten-track journeys and unsung heroes, Brad has a knack for sharing morale-boosting stories that exemplify good character in action. Read on to learn about his latest collaboration with Free Spirit Publishing, the highly anticipated Count on Me: Sports series.
Q: You’ve had quite a prolific career as a writer. Tell us a little about your journey to becoming an author.
Brad: Two teachers played vital roles in my journey. A fourth-grade teacher introduced me to truly creative writing (I later dedicated a book to him). And an eleventh-grade English teacher nominated me for an NCTE award, which worked out well, giving me confidence in my abilities—a writer’s most important attribute. I started as a sportswriter, then soon became a freelance writer because it gave me greater freedom to cultivate ideas and turn them into compelling stories. This has translated into dozens of books, scores of magazine articles, blogs, even a couple of screenplays. And it’s only the tip of the imagination iceberg.
Q: What prompted you to write your new Count on Me: Sports series?
Brad: I’ve always been a sports fan, but I’ve mostly been drawn to the moments and stories that reaffirm humanity. Give me the touching tales, not the tabloid ones. And I often give a speech to educators in which I suggest that they utilize kids’ passion for sports and turn it into a passion for reading and writing. Sports can offer life lessons and can be a launching pad toward other interests. The Count on Me: Sports series is essentially character education disguised as entertainment.
Q: What was the best part of developing these books?
Brad: I have always gravitated toward writing about the overlooked rather than the overrated. So I’ve written three American travel memoirs about my excursions through some of the tiniest dots on the map, and I wrote stories for Sports Illustrated (as well as my latest picture book, Francis and Eddie) about relative unknowns who achieved remarkable feats. With these Count on Me books, I love the fact that I’ve been able to celebrate people who deserve accolades and stories that inspire.
Q: Was there a book that inspired you the most as a child? What about an athlete?
Brad: I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and was blown away. J.R.R. Tolkien started with a blank piece of paper and created a whole world—quite literally, Middle-Earth—out of his own imagination. I dreamed of doing the same someday. My first sports hero, Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears, wasn’t bigger than everyone else, but he was more determined. Kind of like a hobbit.
Q: Have there been any standout moments involving sportsmanship or perseverance in sports that played out in your own life and helped you build character?
Brad: I had an interesting moment at summer camp when I was 14 and chosen as one of the four team captains for an all-camp competition featuring many events. Our team started 0-and-13. We couldn’t win a thing. But then I led 50 or so kids around camp shouting, “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” It was an homage to the Bill Murray camp movie Meatballs—and an homage to perspective. And perspective is what matters most.
Q: What was your favorite thing about school as a kid?
Brad: Well, I did love creative writing. And social studies always intrigued me. I’m still a history buff. But my favorite class was a high school class called Literature of Persuasion. We read materials like Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It was a revelation about the power of words.
Q: What was your least favorite thing about school?
Brad: Science labs didn’t often work out well for me.
Q: And finally, our favorite question for authors! What makes you a “Free Spirit,” Brad?
Brad: If most people are zigging, I’ll zag. I’ve carved out a life and career predicated on not compromising and on taking the less-traveled path. In my mid-twenties, that meant a life-changing, 48-state RV excursion with my wife. We set out to sample life’s options and define our own perfection. And you’ll still find us exploring the open road every summer—as Walt Whitman put it, “healthy, free, the world before me . . .”
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