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Sharing a passion for literature

Nerd Camp
Elissa Brent Weissman, A&S '05, reads from her most recent children's novel, Nerd Camp, to a class of fifth-graders at Govans Elementary School in Baltimore as part of the CityLit Kids program. Photo: Will Kirk/Homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

 

Long before she graduated from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, Elissa Brent Weissman feverishly tore through the entire Baby-Sitters Club book series. "There must have been hundreds of them," she says.

With three published children's books to her name and a fourth in progress, Weissman relishes the opportunity to share her love for literature with enthusiastic young readers.

"What's cool is unlike adult book signings where you read your work and then answer maybe three questions, with kids every single hand goes up — and they ask really great questions," says Weissman, who lives in Baltimore with her husband Grant Roch, also a Johns Hopkins alumnus, and their baby daughter, Karina.

When not working on her next book, Weissman volunteers through the CityLit Kids program, which takes her into Baltimore elementary schools to read to students, answer questions and guide classes through creative writing lessons. She also teaches aspiring authors how to write children's literature through the Johns Hopkins Odyssey program and at the University of Baltimore, and for four summers in a row has worked at the Center for Talented Youth, instructing precocious fourth- and fifth-graders in a writing and reading workshop.

It was through that program that she got the idea for her third book, Nerd Camp, published by Simon & Schuster earlier this year. "It was the first day and during break all these 10-year-olds who had never met were sitting around not knowing what to say until suddenly someone asks, 'How many digits of pi do you know?' and then they all started talking," recalls Weissman.

She discreetly moved the conversation on to another topic lest she be given a similar grilling—she's pretty sure she knows four—but made a writer's decision to store the moment away for future use. She subsequently employed it in Nerd Camp, whose hero, Gabe, is both thrilled and slightly mortified to have the opportunity to attend a six-week sleepaway camp known as "Smart Camp for Geeks and Eggheads."

Weissman's second book, The Trouble with Mark Hopper, was called "frothy and fun" by Booklist magazine. She wrote her first book, Standing for Socks, to fulfill the requirements of a two-semester Long Works class taught by Stephen Dixon and Tristan Davies in the Writing Seminars program. Though her classmates were all writing adult literature, they were immensely supportive of her work, says Weissman, recalling how Davies in particular moved from being skeptical to supportive and eventually even put her in touch with the literary agent who took her on as a client.

"I do get asked a lot, 'Do you plan to write for adults?' as if this is a steppingstone," Weissman says.

"Children's lit is thought of as junior varsity, but I think it's the best thing out there."

Adapted from "Kudos for Kids Lit," Johns Hopkins Magazine, Summer 2011

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