age range: 8-12 years
genre / themes / topics: contemporary fiction, humor, friendship, problem solving
Lindsey Leavitt’s website
This stand-alone story perfectly captures tween self-absorption . . . this is a quick read with great tips for readers about friendship, the pitfalls of jealousy, and developing insight and confidence. Amusing black-and-white spot art enhances the narrative . . . Humorously over-the-top fare that will make a positive impact and inspire readers.
Leavitt has created an endearing, plucky hero, whose wit and self-confidence will charm and amuse readers . . . her [plotline] embodies children’s imaginations perfectly. VERDICT A perfectly fun addition to summer reading lists for middle grade readers; a recommended purchase.
—School Library Journal
Please tell us about your books.
Today you’re getting two books in one! WILLIS WILBUR WOWS THE WORLD & WILLIS WILBUR MEETS HIS MATCH. Because Willis is so amazing, he can’t be contained in just one summary!
Nine-year-old Willis Wilbur has his summer figured out. He and his best friend, Shelley, are going to Band Camp, and he’s going to learn how to play the sousaphone. Easy. Simple. A done deal. But when Shelley is whisked off to Hawaii for a summer with her family, Willis is left staring down the long, boring road of an empty summer. Or even worse–eight long weeks of Day Camp. So Willis decides to try something new. He’s going to MAKE A DATE WITH DESTINY. And after spotting a flyer for a local business competition, he finds exactly what his true calling really is: becoming the Neighborhood Life Coach. A kid helping other kids with kids’ problems. His niche, he discovers. And he’s going to be great at it. The best at it. So good, that he’s going to become wildly, ridiculously famous. All he needs are some clients…
With gumption, tenacity, and many other buzzwords he finds in self-help business magazines, Willis dives bowtie-first into the entrepreneurial waters. But starting a business alone, especially without his best friend by his side, is tough work. And with neighborhood bullies getting in his way, a guinea pig client who’s actually a guinea pig, and an annoyingly competent little sister asking for a raise, Willis has his work cut out for him.
Funny, heartfelt, and overwhelmingly endearing, Willis Wilbur is here to make all of your (well, his) dreams come true. (For a small fee.)
Nine-year-old Willis Wilbur is beyond excited to go back to school. Now that he has discovered his destiny as a life coach, he’s looking forward to signing on more clients (preferably human ones, not just guinea pigs).
So when Willis and his classmates are tasked with creating a passion project — an opportunity to present an idea they love and share it with the whole school — Willis knows exactly what he’s going to do. He enlists his very smart friend, Margo, and his number one best friend, Shelley, who is finally back from a family vacation in Hawaii. Together, they are going to make the Willis Wilbur App, also known as the first-EVER life-coaching app. Willis is confident he’s going to become a millionaire. Soon, he can probably buy, like, a bunch of tacos.
Except Willis has one teensy problem. He doesn’t know anything about technology. Or worse yet, coding. And then he discovers something even more horrific: Shelley wants to do her own passion project on horse therapy with her new, extremely weird, absolutely awful friend, Clint. In a tough spot with his life-coaching dreams and his best friend, Willis must learn hard but rewarding lessons about jealousy, realistic goal setting, and putting your pride aside to ask for help.
What inspired you to write these stories?
Some writers friends and I attended an editor’s workshop about getting to know your character. The class had a big life coaching angle, which totally surprised us (and was a little intense for an early morning). Afterwards, we started talking about life coaching as a career and someone said it would be funny to see a teen running that workshop. I commented that It would be funnier to see a kid running a life coaching business. Three seconds later, I shouted, “And I call dibs on that!”
Writers often talk about what comes first—plot or character. This applies to drafting and the idea itself. Willis came to me almost immediately after I called idea dibs. All I had to do was ask myself what kind of kid would DO a job like this? What kind of kid would we fall in love with as he takes his work very, very seriously? And there was Willis—a kid with buckets of gumption and dreams that stretch beyond hyperbole. A kid who dresses professionally for a swim party. A kid who can use his experiences with bullying, jealously, and rejection to help other kids (and make money doing it). Part Ted Lasso, part Leslie Knope, part Tim Gunn, Willis is a rare gift of a character because he came to me pretty fully formed. He has clear motivation, misbeliefs, insecurities, loves, and the occasional delusion of grandeur. Willis Wilbur is my favorite character I’ve ever written and I hope you enjoy spending some time with him too!
Could you share a few interesting tidbits about your writing process with these books?
My first experience with life coaching was rather accidental in that I didn’t know that’s what I was walking into. As such, my initial view on the practice was cynical. Like, how to make a joke out of this? (Which is basically my view on life anyway.) But as I started to read books and listen to podcasts (SO MANY PODCASTS), I realized how much value there is in coaching—any sort of coaching. I listened to business coaches who helped my business, financial coaches who helped my finances, fitness coaches who got me to run a half marathon (all while listening to all this coaching). Once I had researched all the different categories of the impressively vast world of life coaching, I shut it all down and focused exclusively on how a kid would view this field. How a kid would misunderstand aspects. How a kid would push past limitations. Basically, I went from making this a big joke to trying to honor Willis’s experience. The books are still funny, but this shift brought so much more heart into the story. I had to believe in Willis and what he is doing in order for him to believe in himself.
What topics do your books touch upon that would make them a perfect fit for the classroom?
The first book focuses on Willis trying to win the BOO (Business Owner’s Organization) scholarship. The second—the school passion fair. These pursuits gave a natural timeline to the stories, though one is set in the summer and one during the start of school. Although students can relate to the projects, I find the “fit” lies in the emotional journey the characters’ cover in both books, specifically related to friendship. Willis and his best friend Shelley have always been inseparable. In the first book, they spend a summer away from each other. They both need to figure out who they are as individuals. When Shelley comes home, they have to adjust to how they fit back together now that they have separate interests. That interplay happens constantly in the classroom—what happens when this friend is in another class? What happens when they quit soccer for lacrosse? What happens when another kid moves into town? These shifts happen throughout childhood (and adulthood!). I hope WILLIS is a book that helps teachers discuss these friendship evolutions with students.