age range: 8-12 years
genre / topics: contemporary fiction; soccer, family illness (ALS)
Amy Makechnie’s website
A heart-tugging and uplifting story about never giving up—on the soccer field, on loved ones, and on life.
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Please tell us about your book.
GOLDEN “Macaroni” Maroni is determined to become master of his eighth grade universe by channeling his hero: international soccer superstar, Lionel Messi. But first he’s got to survive middle school, win the soccer championship, and prevent Lucy Littlehouse from moving away. If he can do that, then maybe he can prevent Dad from losing to the three worst letters in the alphabet: A-L-S. Golden’s going to make it happen – even if it takes Ten Thousand Tries!
What inspired you to write this story?
My son, who in 8th grade, wanted TO BE Lionel Messi more than anything in the world. Like Messi, he was small. He was also incredibly determined to be bigger, stronger, and faster – characteristics that unfortunately have a tremendous impact on a boy’s middle school experience. At the same time, another teammate of my son’s had a father (Eric) recently diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.) As the boys were trying to be “the man,” we were also watching a father become smaller, weaker, and slower. It really made me think about societal “ideals” and what the most important things in life really are (not our bench press stats).
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
Eric was a really good friend of mine. Before he had full-time and more qualified nursing care, friends would take turns “watching” and caring for Eric. We made smoothies, held the straw to his lips, took walks (he controlled the wheelchair with his thumb), talked about life, played board games. I watched Eric go from being a really athletic, strong man, to sitting in a wheelchair and not being able to move anything except his eyelids. It was both devastating and one of the most holy experiences of my life. I remember saying, “Someday, I’d like to write about this.” Eric was able to haltingly say, “thank – you.”
What were some special challenges associated with writing Ten Thousand Tries?
I definitely wanted to “get it right” on many fronts. For one thing, I was writing from a middle school boy’s perspective! My son helped me a lot (“no mom, you can’t say that.”) In the book, one of Golden’s best friends is Asian, and I wanted to make sure he wasn’t just there as the token sidekick with nothing else to offer. His name is Benny and I LOVE Benny. The experience of living with ALS needed to be accurate. I teach Anatomy and Physiology, so that helped with the science, but I also had Eric’s wife, Heide, read the final manuscript. And of course, I didn’t want this to be too sad! So while I couldn’t treat the subject of an incurable disease lightly, I also had to find a way to bring in the humor and silver linings – and there are so many. Middle school humor is the best, so crossing my fingers I’ve done right by my middle school peeps.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Educators can use this book to talk about what it means to be a good teammate, both on the field and off — in our families and friendships. Ten Thousand Tries is being released in July 2021 to coincide with the Olympics (MESSI!) and the start of fall sports. This could lead to great conversations about athletics, who our heroes are, and why. Teachers could use this book (and Guinevere 🙂 to introduce medicine into their classroom, particularly from a brain perspective. Who knows, maybe it will inspire a student to be the one to finally find the cure to ALS, a disease that 5,000 people will be diagnosed with this year in the U.S.
Thanks for reading!
Thank you, Amy. I’m looking forward to it.