age range: 9-11 years
genre / form / topics : contemporary fiction; verse novel; body image
setting: San Francisco
Chris Baron’s website
If you have ever felt lost in the world, betrayed by your body or buoyed by a glimmer of hope or the glow of friendship, then All of Me could be your story, too.
–The Los Angeles Times
All of Me is for anyone who has been in search of a tribe, in love with a friend or in need of answers to questions that they can’t bring themselves to ask. In other words, everybody.
— San Diego Union Tribune
[A] beautifully written and psychologically acute debut. Readers will be glad to accompany Ari on his journey to self-discovery.
— Booklist magazine
Please tell us about your book.
ALL OF ME is set in San Francisco. It is the story of Ari Rosensweig, an overweight, seventh-grade boy who is an outcast. He loves cryptozoology and role-playing games. Ari is tired of being bullied and letting his weight define him. His parents’ marriage is struggling. They are too busy to focus on his life, much less help him with his already late bar mitzvah, and things take a turn for the worse. Ari’s mother, a painter and sculptor, decides to open an old gallery at the beach that summer. She puts him on a diet, and with the help of some unexpected friends, he tries to make a change physically, but that’s only the beginning of their adventures and the real change that comes. It’s a coming age of story about friendship, self-acceptance, and becoming all of who you are.
What inspired you to write this story?
It’s fun to say this — the LA TIMES called this a “fictional retelling,” so my inspiration comes from the life I have lived, my own struggles with weight, bullying, and trying to find my own way in the world — it’s also specifically tied to the magical summer in the Bay Area where the book takes place. I really do believe that middle grade — even with its wide range of ages — is a time of wonder and growth like no other. The experiences we have and the stories we read at this age are formative for how we see the world, find hope, and experience so many things.
And of course — my own, middle grade aged kids are teaching me that this age is crucial — kids are hopeful and brave, and we owe it to them to give them the best stories we can.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I did quite a bit or research into my own Jewish heritage. I also had a lot of fun developing the setting by creating maps of what I called the “Triangle,” where Ari travels from San Francisco, to Mill Valley, to Stinson Beach, and everywhere in between. It was my way of making his journey more epic! I have pages filled with maps — some in water color-some just pencil scratches. I sat with my kids in the mornings, and we all made maps together.
I also researched about body image — male boy image especially — and the impact of diets on kids this age. I also did some interviews with psychologists and nutritionists about diet and perception. The most impactful was talking to kids — they helped me develop a bit more voice beyond my own for the authenticity for the characters.
Okay — one more interesting tidbit — some research was finding some of the people that the characters are based on and sharing some of the story with them—I really wanted to honor them in the story.
What are some special challenges associated with fictionalizing a true story?
Great question. I think that sometimes, in early drafts, I veered off into overly personal tangents that sort of trailed away from the core story. This is one of the blessings of an agent and editor who can see the story through such cohesive eyes.
Another challenge was the immediacy of the story. I wrote ALL OF ME in verse because I wanted to provide a more intimate and sometimes internal connection for the reader to be close to Ari’s thoughts — understand and hopefully “feel” what he feels in the story. At times this took massive revision because every single word really matters.
So many kid lit authors have incredibly poetic, lyrical lines in their prose, so the gap isn’t always that wide. I think that poetry speaks to the heart. We see with more than just our eyes, and the music of poetry helps to make words sing directly to us.
As I get to talk to more kids and teachers, I’m finding that poetry relates to all kinds of readers. There is space on the page, measured breaks, pacing, music, and movement of lines that a reader of almost any level can find their way into. The structure of verse creates an intimacy with a reader that allows them to hear the tone and cadence of a character’s voice. This can create even stronger connections for readers.
I also have to mention one other challenge:
Writing is so emotional. My family did an incredible job of supporting me through the process. But for long periods I really had to focus on discovering how to write something vulnerable in long stretches and still be a decent husband, father professor, and all the rest.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
I want to shout something like self-confidence! Self-acceptance! Hope! Adventure! I hope readers will learn about empathy and kindness for others, Jewish culture and tradition — but also about the sacred in general, overcoming struggles with body image, friendship, taking risks, and learning more about being brave and being themselves no matter what. I hope readers, especially the young ones, will know that if they are going through difficult things like the characters in the book, they will know that they are not alone.
I’m definitely looking forward to engaging with teachers, librarians, and students to talk about all of these themes!