CLARK THE SHARK by Bruce Hale (+Giveaway)

Bruce Hale is here to talk with us about CLARK THE SHARK and irresistible characters. Bruce and I both love cool hats, Latin jazz, movies, chocolate chip cookies, and talking animals.

My first introduction to Bruce’s work was through his award-winning CHET GECKO MYSTERY series for ages 8-12. Chet is a 4th-grade lizard detective who solves mysteries, loves stinkbug pie, and makes me laugh.

So I was excited to discover that Bruce writes books for younger readers too. The title and cover of the first CLARK THE SHARK picture book reeled me in. Guy Francis created the bright illustrations, which perfectly match Bruce’s energetic, read-aloud text.

The opening: “In all the wide blue seas, in all the wide blue world, the top school for fish was Theodore Roosterfish Elementary. And of all the fish at Theodore Roosterfish, the biggest and strongest was Clark the Shark.”

The problem: Clark loves life, but sometimes his enthusiasm is too much. “He was too loud. He was too wild. He was just too much shark for the other fish to handle.” 

My favorite scene: Clark can’t help himself at lunchtime – he eats all of his friends’ lunches! Sometimes I want to do this when I go out to eat with my friends.

A fun approach: To help him remember to stay cool in various situations, Clark starts inventing catchy rhymes. When he smells the other kids’ lunches and wants to eat and never stop, he tells himself: “Only munch your own lunch!” I need to remember this.

Now let’s hear from Bruce!


What inspired Clark the Shark?

Clark was different from most of my picture books. Usually, I come up with the story and, once I’ve revised it to my satisfaction, my agent shops it around to different publishers. But with Clark the Shark, the publisher, HarperCollins, came to me. I’d done some work-for-hire projects for them before, and they gave me the character and rough plot of the first book as another work-for-hire. I jumped right in. Of course, it didn’t hurt that my late father’s name was Clark.

Sounds like this project was meant to be. That’s interesting how it launched; it offers some insight into what kind of characters and books appeal to a publisher. How did you come to have multiple books on Clark the Shark?

The first book, CLARK THE SHARK, was intended as a one-off, digital I-Can-Read project. But once the editors saw the story and art, they changed their minds and decided to make it a print picture book. The first tale made such a splash (pun intended), that it was turned into a 12-book picture book/easy reader series. It’s been a fun ride!

Wow! That’s amazing. So cool to start with one thing and see it grow like ZING, BANG, BOOM! (borrowing a little lingo from Clark the Shark)

You have created and developed many successful characters throughout your career. I wish there was a magic formula – maybe you can tell us the magic formula?! And please describe your creative process for character development.

Gee, I wish I had a magic formula for you (or me!). Sometimes a character arises from a situational story idea — I ask myself, “What kind of character would have the hardest time in this situation?” That’s the case with my work-in-progress, a novel called SWITCHED, in which a boy and dog get into a magical accident and their souls swap bodies. Sometimes a character arrives fully formed, like Chet Gecko, and I can actually hear their voice as I write. But however I craft the character, I usually try to brainstorm for as long as I can about them, writing character journal entries, describing their likes and dislikes, and doing similar exercises to flesh out the character in my mind. I also try to balance the supporting cast, so that each character is distinct and brings out something different from my hero.

What are your top 3 writing tips for crafting kid-friendly characters and stories? 

1. Steal from kids you know. Seriously. We all know kids, either from our present or past, who possess certain distinctive personality traits. Sometimes you can borrow those traits for your fictional character; sometimes you can take a situation you’ve observed and tweak it into a story. Raw material is all around us!

2. Fill your character with flaws and quirks. Nobody wants to read about someone who’s perfect (unless that perfection brings its own kind of troubles). Make sure your character has strong opinions, takes action, and moves their own story forward. So many books have already been published, so make sure your character stands out, is distinctive, and claims their own real estate.

3. Have fun! Books for kids, particularly picture books, need a high joy quotient. Humor is something I try to add to all my books. If I’m not having fun writing it, the readers won’t have fun reading it. Joy in, joy out.

What is your toughest challenge when it comes to writing stories for Clark the Shark and how do you address it?

Now that I’ve written 10 Clark the Shark books, the challenge for me is finding an arena where Clark’s personality will create enough interesting conflict to drive a story — without repeating myself. Mostly, I address this challenge by listening to kid readers’ suggestions (one of them suggested “Clark gets a pet,” which became Book #10) and searching for typical kid-like situations to explore. In the Clark easy readers, in particular, we’ve used getting lost, visiting the dentist, and overdoing the treats as typical situations a kid might encounter.

What books do you have on the way?

I’ve got three books coming out in the not-too-distant future: a Christmas picture book called PEPPERMINT POST (September 2020), a novel called SWITCHED (pub date to be announced), and the next Clark the Shark easy reader, CLARK THE SHARK GETS A PET (November 2020). It’s currently being illustrated by Guy Francis. Two more easy readers will follow that one. Clark keeps on swimming.

I’m so glad he does. I wonder what pet Clark will get? But don’t tell us! Can’t wait to read about it.

Visit Bruce on the Web: https://brucehale.com/

***GIVEAWAY***

For a chance to win a CLARK THE SHARK book, leave a comment by February 10. I’ll announce the randomly-selected winner in my next post.

Congrats to Shelley Smithson for winning a copy of Strictly No Elephants from my last post!

Thanks & see you next time!

-Michelle

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows is the author of 10 books for children -- with more in the works. Michelle loves dreaming up new projects and telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in her work. Her latest books are BRAVE BALLERINA: The Story of Janet Collins and FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles. Her other books include HIBERNATION STATION, SUPER BUGS, and PIGGIES IN PAJAMAS. Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. She is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle grew up in Washington, D.C. She now lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband and son. To learn more about Michelle's books, visit her website: www.michellemeadows.com

80 Comments:

  1. Congrats on such a successful writing life. I’ll bet these Clark books really ‘hook’ your readers.

  2. Kids really love these books! Thanks for a great interview!

  3. Words to live by, “joy in, joy out” thank for the super interview.

  4. Even if Bruce claims there’s no magic formula, “What kind of character would have the hardest time in this situation?” is a pretty awesome jumpstarter for me!
    Fun interview!

  5. So fun! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Avatar
    Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Wow. Great advice here!

  7. Great character! I have a character that needs more “pazazz” and I think you can inspire me! I intend to look up all the Clark the Shark books soon…Thank you:)

  8. As a kid, I sooo loved series books. These look like a lot of fun!

  9. Congratulations, Bruce! It’s great to see your success with Clark!

  10. I always love reading/listening/learning more of the backstories! Thank you for sharing.

  11. Great interview! So interesting to hear how Clark has taken off from the first book. Thanks, Michelle, and congrats, Bruce–nice to see you here!

  12. Lots of great tips here! Go, Clark (and Bruce)!

  13. I love Bruce’s Clark the Shark books! Thanks for sharing his process for developing a strong character and voice that will sustain through multiple books.

  14. I enjoy the Clark the Shark books! I’ve used them as examples for character driven picture books when I’ve given talks on the subject. I enjoyed the interview and learning how Bruce develops his characters.
    Congratulations on the upcoming books!

  15. Clark the Shark sounds like a wonderful and enjoyable character. Congrats, Bruce.

  16. Avatar
    Danielle Hammelef

    I follow this author’s newsletter and he always shares a joke and writing advice. I would love to read one of his books.

  17. Michelle and Bruce, thanks for the interview and writing tips!

  18. Clark sounds like a great quirky character!

  19. Love those writing tips. Clark sounds like a winner.

  20. Avatar
    Janet Frenck Sheets

    I”m not surprised that one of Bruce’s tips is “have fun.” In every interview he comes across as a super-fun person. (I even feel like I can call him “Bruce,” instead of Mr. Hale!) I’ll check out Clark the Shark.

  21. Congrats, Bruce! Love Clark the Shark books!

  22. You had me at Clark.

  23. Looking forward to getting the Clark the Shark books for my grandkids. Thanks for the great writing advice.

  24. Fishtastic interview! Keep writing, Bruce. The kiddos love you!

  25. What a great interview, tips and picture!!! I want to have a hat like that too!!!

  26. Clark the Shark sounds like fun. Thanks for sharing how he came into being. Great interview. Didn’t want it to end.

  27. Thanks, all, for the kind comments (and Danielle, thanks for the newsletter mention)! I just finished the last day of an exhausting and delightful series of school visits. How lovely to log on and see your comments. Happy writing (and reading), all!

  28. Joy in, Joy out – love that! Thanks for a peek inside your creative process, Bruce. I love these blog posts – thanks, Michelle.

  29. Thanks for introducing me to Bruce Hale. And congrats to the illustrator – it’s quite an achievement to create such an appealing shark!

  30. Good old Clark! Great strategies and very interesting interview. Thanks so much for sharing!

  31. Loved reading this and hearing that you ask kids for suggestions for more Clark the Shark books. Congrats on all your upcoming books. Keep them coming!

  32. I love Bruce’s comment, “Joy in, joy out.” Great interview, Michelle! Thanks!

  33. Loved all the tips in this blog post! And love “Joy in, joy out.” Thanks, Michelle and Bruce!

  34. Clark is a favorite among my grade 1 students. So glad there is more to come from Bruce Hale. Thanks for the insightful interview, Michelle. =)

  35. Loved hearing about how CLARK THE SHARK got started. Such a fun series! Great interview, Michelle and Bruce!

  36. Bruce is the greatest. Love his Clark The Shark books!

  37. This looks like such a fun book!…and I love Bruce’s advice. Thank you!

  38. Great post. Love those Clark books. Thanks Michelle.

  39. Great tips on character development, Bruce. Will be watching for more Clark adventures.

  40. Avatar
    Lynne Marie Pisano

    Clark the Shark has swam his want into my heart and taken a bite out of it <3

  41. These look amazing my boy and girl would love these

  42. Clark is very popular with my kiddos at my school library. Thanks for writing awesome books.

  43. Looks like something my daughter would love, especially since she adores sharks. I need to pick up these books.

  44. these books look great!

  45. Great interview! Love this series!

  46. My son lives Clark the Shark! Thanks

  47. I love that he uses kids’ suggestions for his next books 🙂

  48. My 6 year old just loves Clark the shark. We read the book report so so many times. He’s really loving to read now! Just bought him the too many treats! He can’t wait for it to get here!

  49. My daughter would love this series!!

  50. My students absolutely LOVE the Clark the Shark books!

  51. Thank you so much for the opportunity to own these books, I appreciate the “be kind to others” message!

  52. I have never heard of these books. They look so fun! We are a bit book obsessed over here and would love the chance to win!!

  53. We love Clark books! My daughter is obsessed with sharks, so Clark the Shark is her favorite.

  54. Would love to read these books!

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