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FIVE ON FRIDAY with Claudia Mills

Claudia Mills is our FIVE ON FRIDAY guest this week. Claudia is the delightful author of several hilarious and touching chapter books including the Gus and Grandpa and West Creek Middle School Series and also knows that everything is up to date in Kansas City.

Visit Claudia at

When did you know that you first wanted to be a writer?

I think I always knew. Writing was what I loved, and what I was good at (not math! Not P.E.!). I wrote poetry, stories, and plays all through elementary school, and in eighth grade, I wrote my first book, an autobiographical account of my life, called T Is for Tarzan (my nickname in those days was Tarzan). It was the sensation of the junior high (partly because everybody was in it, with none of the names changed). That was my first real taste of success as a writer.

What book or writer/artist do you feel influenced you the most?

Definitely Maud Hart Lovelace, who wrote the marvelous Betsy-Tacy series, written in the 1940s and 1950s about the author’s own childhood growing up in Minnesota at the turn of the last century. I consider Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown to be the finest novel in the English language. It was the proudest moment of my writing life when I had a book signing at Tacy’s house in Mankato, Minnesota, now maintained as a museum by the Betsy-Tacy Society.

What book or books are you currently reading or have recently read that you’re recommend to others?

Carol Lynch Williams’s The Chosen One, out this spring from St. Martin’s Press, is a stunning and amazing young adult novel about a girl growing up in a polygamous community. I also loved Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson, a beautiful story of a 16-year-old homesteading by herself on the Montana plains.

If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Luxuriate in your love of it. The more you let yourself love writing, and make room in your life for your love of it, the better a writer you will become.

Can you share with us your next project or any information about the next book you’re working on?

My brand-new chapter book, How Oliver Olson Changed the World, just came out this spring from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Oliver has very controlling, “helicopter” parents who hover over him, help him excessively with homework, and refuse to let him attend the long-awaited third grade space sleepover. But things start to change for Oliver when he and his classmate Crystal team up to make a protest diorama on behalf of Pluto, upset that poor Pluto has been kicked out of the solar system. If Oliver can advocate so effectively for Pluto, maybe, just maybe, he can start standing up for himself. I love writing third-grade chapter books! I love everything about them: the peppy pacing, adorable format, humor and sweetness. They are the best!

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