"Malcolm" is Back

children’s author pens sequel to critically acclaimed novel

Rob Reid, photos by Andrea Paulseth

BACK TO SCHOOL. W.H. Beck’s Malcolm Under the Stars brings back the titular rat and a team of clasroom pets.
BACK TO SCHOOL. W.H. Beck’s Malcolm Under the Stars brings back the titular rat and a team of classroom pets.

Eau Claire author W.H. Beck recently returned from Kansas where she was treated like royalty. Her children’s novel Malcolm at Midnight (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) was voted by 30,000 Kansas students as their favorite book (grades 3-5) for that state’s William Allen White Book Award. Several departments from Emporia State University, one location where the award reception was held, participated in the celebration of this award by setting up stations for the young students. University volunteers hosted crafts, storytelling, science experiments, and trivia to celebrate Malcolm at Midnight.

Beck’s trip coincided with the release of the second book in the series, Malcolm Under the Stars, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this fall. Beck describes the new book as a continuation of the story of a secret society of school pets that help McKenna Elementary School from closing due to need for repairs. Beck had the current Eau Claire school district office at 500 Main St. in mind for the setting, as she attended school there as a child. The classroom pets of the Midnight Academy have to venture outside of the building for the first time to seek help with their quest. Malcolm, a small rat, is the protagonist; he’s an animal with a “hero brain.” One quote from the book best sums up the theme: “For you see, sometimes it is not the grand things we do in life, but the small ones that make the biggest difference.”

“For you see, sometimes it is not the grand things we do in life, but the small ones that make the biggest difference.” – from Malcolm Under the Stars, by W.H. Beck

Fans of the first book will recognize unique writing aspects of that novel in the sequel. These include second-person voice in the form of letters from one of the students to a teacher to explain the book’s fast-paced actions. The other touch of writing rarely seen in children’s fiction is the use of footnotes throughout the story. Beck explains that she went with footnotes because she had too many jokes to add to the story that could have slowed down the pace. One example is when the character Honey Bunny speaks up. The regular text reads, “Honey Bunny (or HB, as he strongly preferred to be called) growled.” The footnote reads, “Yes, Honey Bunny’s a he, despite the fluff-addled name the second-graders gave him. You should see his cage.”

The first book was easier to write, says Beck. She primarily wrote Malcolm at Midnight to see if she could actually write a novel. She had the time and luxury to work on it. With this sequel, she sold the proposal to her editor and then had deadlines to write the book. This did not coincide well with being a working mom. She felt a little rushed as a result. That said, she is very happy with the way the book turned out.

Beck says that kids will enjoy the second book even if they haven’t read its predecessor. Hopefully, the sequel will be as well-received as the first book. In addition to the Kansas state award, Malcolm at Midnight was also nominated for state awards in Nebraska, New Hampshire, Utah, and West Virginia. It is currently on the list for Wisconsin’s state award and voting will take place next spring.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at UW-Madison gave it a CCBC Choices designation, a nationally recognized award that has special meaning to Beck, as she went to school there and spent many hours doing research in the CCBC. The review publications also gave the book high praise. Publisher’s Weekly called Malcolm at Midnight “A first-rate debut” and Kirkus Reviews wrote, “A rip-roaring tale, even rodent haters will have to like Malcolm.”

Beck has no plans to write a third book in the series. She says that the student characters have moved on from McKenna Elementary to middle school. But, she says, you never know. If Malcolm Under the Stars receives the same accolades of the first book, she may have to cave in and continue the story of Malcolm the rat and the Midnight Academy.

She does have another book coming out in January under her real name: Rebecca Hogue Wojahn. It is a nonfiction book titled Glow: Animals with Their Own Night Lights. It was recently picked as a Junior Library Guild selection for next year, another kudo for this nationally published author.

To learn more about the author and her work, visit www.whbeck.com.

This was made by

Rob Reid  author

Rob Reid is a senior lecturer of education studies at UW-Eau Claire. In addition to writing Children’s Jukebox (ALA Editions 1995/2007), Reid has also written two more books about children’s music: Something Musical Happened at the Library (ALA Editions, 2007) and Shake and Shout: 16 Noisy, Lively S

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