I wrote a middle school book, not a middle grade book

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m convinced there’s an audience for my Stu Stories books. In fact–as I also previously noted–tall tales set in childhood have a long and distinguished legacy. (Note 1: if you’re interested in viewing a list of these books, the above-mentioned post should be simple enough to find; it’s been over two years since I started this website/blog, but in all that time I’ve only posted a handful of times. Note 2: saying books that aim to make kids laugh have a “long and distinguished legacy” is way too serious. It sounds as though I’m comparing Pippi Longstocking to, like, some sort of eminent scientist who discovered a planet. All I’m really trying to compare Pippi to is the prankster who tricked said astronomer into naming said planet Uranus.)

My faith in Stu’s (still mostly unrealized) audience isn’t only due to the number of similar books that are currently on their gazillionth edition. It also has to do with the age of the audience I’m targeting. While many of the books that inspired Stu are for third, fourth and fifth graders, Stu Stories is intended for a slightly older readership.

In other words, Pippi and The Great Brain are middle grade books; Stu is a middle school book.

This is, admittedly, part of the problem. When I talk to librarians and teachers and parents, they seem to have difficulty imagining a book explicitly for this particular age group. They’re aware of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, of course, and they realize a reluctant 7th grade reader might appreciate it along with the elementary age kids it’s actually aimed at, but it’s almost as if it never occurs to them that a series of (hopefully) funny stories could be for 7th graders by design.

In some ways, I expected this skepticism when I set out to write Stu Stories. In fact, it was specifically because I couldn’t find many (hopefully) funny short stories for 13-year-olds that I wrote them myself.

On the other hand, I’ve never been able to figure out why more authors aren’t writing these stories for these kids, or why more librarians and teachers aren’t asking for them. After all, I can’t think of an age group that loves short stories more than middle schoolers. When I was in 7th grade, the most popular teacher in our school was the one who told us the most stories. Kids couldn’t wait to go to his class to hear his next “real,” “true,” scary or funny (or both) “memory.” I put all those words in quotes because Mr. S told the stories as if they were actual recollections, even though most of them strained credibility–and we left his classroom debating whether or not to believe him, which is to say we left wanting to believe him so badly that we talked ourselves into doing exactly that.

When I became a summer camp counselor in high school and college, I re-told Mr. S’s stories and made up my own. They worked pretty well on everyone–all kids like stories–but it was the middle school campers who would lobby most energetically to hear them. Scary stories, for instance, were often too scary for younger campers, but for middle schoolers these stories inspired both snark and shushes, audible laughter and almost-as-audible gulps.

The camp had mandatory reading time; for 15 or 20 minutes after lunch, everyone was supposed to either read from a book on their own or have one read to them. It took me a few weeks to realize that getting read to aloud was’t just an elementary thing; if anything, my 7th and 8th graders were more hungry for story time, and more in need of it. Like me when I was their age, many of them had recently stopped enjoying books. Finding something to read on their own felt to them like homework. (They weren’t far off, of course; the whole purpose of making everyone read was so we could tell their parents that, at our camp, students wouldn’t slide backwards in their academics over the summer.) But if/when I could find the right read-aloud . . . well . . . WOW. They’d stop slouching or fidgeting. They’d tell each other to shut up so they could hear better. They’d ask, the next day, if we could read another chapter.

Unfortunately, it was difficult to sustain their interest because there simply weren’t many books they deemed both entertaining and, just as importantly, not beneath them. “Kids books” were instantly dismissed as patronizing. The all-time best read-aloud was a few chapters from Roald Dahl’s autobiography Boy. The middle school campers especially liked the scene where Dahl gets in a car accident as a boy and his nose is almost cut off, “hanging on only by a single small thread of skin.” Even Boy, though, could only keep their attention for so long.

When I became a middle school English teacher, I had all these memories of this exact age group getting swept up (or not) in stories. I remembered how crucial it was that these stories be short enough for one sitting but connected enough that students could ask for “another one.”  I also remembered a buddy of mine who relentlessly planned and executed classroom high jinks.

The truth is that I began telling Stu’s stories out loud to my classes because I noticed my students’ eyes glazing over and I couldn’t bear to have that happen in my class. English class was about more than learning to write a five-paragraph essay or use a semicolon; I needed them to know that. At its heart, English class was supposed to be more akin to story time than grammar time, and so I began, one story at a time, to tell them about this friend of mine who hid in podiums and wrote “anonymous” ransom notes demanding teachers’ candy and . . .

It worked.

Their eyes un-glazed.  They started reacting not only to these stories but to the rest of the class content as well. They said things like, “That can’t be true . . . can it?” and “You made that up . . . right?” and “You should write these stories down; you’d make like a million dollars.”

I took their advice. I wrote the stories down.

But I haven’t made a million bucks.


I haven’t given up. I still believe that if I can convince librarians and teachers to give the book a shot, I won’t need to convince middle schoolers of anything. They’ll know right away that this book in their hands is written just for them.

An impossibly easy sell

Disclaimer: For anyone who knows me from social media, this is going to be yet another message about my middle grade book, Stu Stories: The Adventures of Dirt Clod and His Sidekick Bird Bones.

By now, I fear, you’re completely sick of my peddling. (Note: that word, peddling, makes me think of the word piddling. More specifically, it makes me think of my 9th grade basketball coach calling a time out and screaming at us to “Quit piddling down your legs!” If he were currently my friend on Facebook, he’d probably scream, “Quit peddling your own book!” which would be less funny but equally well-deserved.)

I know I’m sick of my constant attempts at self-promotion.

Truth be told, I’ve never wanted to have anything to do with hawking my own wares. No matter how hard I try to make my pitches funny or clever or self-deprecating, I always feel like I’ve simply written, “Look at me, everyone! Please, PLEASE look at me!”

And yet, as off-puttingly self-serving as I know my status updates are, I also know I’ll probably keep writing them.

That’s what happens when you publish a book you believe in.

More to the point, it’s what happens when you publish a book you believe should be an easy sell but for some reason isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written a lot of things that aren’t easy sells. Most of my fiction for adults, for instance, is called either realistic fiction or, perhaps worse, literary fiction. In an age where people are suspicious of anything sounding too intellectual, telling someone I write literary fiction is akin to social suicide. If I’m lucky enough to get a follow-up question—“what’s that supposed to mean?”—my follow-up answer doesn’t do me any favors: “I write about ordinary people and the everyday drama we all face.” Honestly, I’m surprised more people don’t yawn in my face.

In any case, Stu Stories isn’t literary fiction and it most certainly isn’t about ordinary people or events.

Sword fighting, decapitation, thievery, vanishing into thin air: this book’s got all kinds of first-rate premises and plot hooks. It even has a love triangle of sorts, if you’re into that sort of thing.

It also has a clear genre and market. Broadly speaking, Stu Stories fits comfortably alongside tons of other current books featuring humorous shenanigans. Origami Yoda, 13-Story Treehouse, Timmy Failure, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Wayside School, etc. etc. etc. More specifically, Stu is intended to be part of an old and still robust tradition of larger-than-life characters performing incredible feats of derring-do in an otherwise real-world setting: from Tom and Huck to “The Great Brain” and “Soup”  to Matilda and Grandma Dowdel, these characters’ antics have been a hit with kids for almost 150 years. A lot of these books are currently called “boy books,” but this is a limiting designation. Perhaps the character who most resembles Stu, in fact, is Pippi Longstocking.

I mention all these books not to say that mine is their equal, but merely to point out the conclusive evidence that there has been and continues to be an audience for books like Stu Stories.

So how do I make this audience aware of my book.

So far, I haven’t come up with any great answers.

A co-worker recently suggested, “You should get your book into that Scholastic reading flyer that kids take home with them from school—remember those?”

I do remember them, and what’s more, I totally agree with my co-worker. I’d love to get Stu Stories into one of those flyers. One minor problem, though: my book wasn’t published by Scholastic. It was published by an imprint of Cedar Fort (Sweetwater Books), a company who has been wonderful to me but simply doesn’t have the financial fuel to launch a full-scale marketing campaign on my behalf. They’re happy to help me brainstorm strategies, but I’m the one who has to do much of the legwork.

So far I’ve created this website, I’ve gone on a blog tour, I’ve done a handful of class visits and author readings. These visits and readings have been far and away the best part of the process: Students have responded to Stu’s hi-jinks with shrieks and gasps and laughter.

In a sense, though, they’ve also been the worst part of this experience. As I get in my car and drive away from the school or bookstore, there is invariably a letdown. I’ve just gotten raucous confirmation that there is indeed an audience for my book; but I still don’t know how to reach this audience—not on a larger scale. At this point I’ve pretty much run out of friends who work at elementary or middle schools. I’m willing to drive anywhere in Minnesota to do a reading, but like I said, I’ve used up my connections. And what about other states? I work full-time; my employer is great about letting me take a day off here or there, but an actual tour would be much more difficult (not to mention expensive) to pull off.

None of what I’ve just described makes me at all unique. Any author who doesn’t have a national marketing campaign at their disposal faces the same dilemma.

So why am I taking the time to whine about it? Is this just self-pity?


Then again, the problem just became more acute.

Why? Because I recently finished a sequel to Stu. When I let my publisher know about it, their response was completely fair but also disheartening. They’re going to wait and see how the first book does before agreeing to publish the next installment.

So now I have two Stu books. One is barely a blip on any teachers’ or kids’ radar. The other is quite possibly dead on arrival.

Unless, that is, I can get that blip to start, well, blipping.


Scurrying across the grid.

Catching people’s eye.

If you have any ideas, let me know. Believe me, at this point I’m open to suggestions.

Until then, I’ll keep posting on social media because I can’t think of anything else to do.

The Time Stu Turned Me Into a Football Star (for 1 Day)

In honor of the Super Bowl, here’s my story about the time Stu turned me into a football star . . . for one day.

To read more about our adventures, buy the book here https://www.amazon.com/Stu-Stories-Adventures-Sidekick-Bones/dp/1462119557 or here http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/stu-stories-patrick-hueller/1123830506.


Dear Reader

There are two things you need to know about my childhood friend Stu Sanderson. The first is that he was tall. Really, really tall. By eighth grade he was close to seven feet tall.

The second? His goal in life was to be legendary.


Patrick “Bird Bones” Hueller



How I Became a Football Star (Briefly, But Still)

As always during recess, I was sitting at the edge of the playground. As always, Stu was nowhere to be found. As always, Clara was on the tire swing, her feet planted firmly on the ground.

Once again, a football fell out of the sky. This time it landed to my left and bounced toward the giant yellow slide.

It never got there, though, because a foot stopped it.

A giant foot.

Stu’s foot.

I’d been looking for him for at least ten minutes, and hadn’t seen him. How did he just appear like that? Where had he come from? To this day I can’t explain it.

“A little help?” It was Chad Logan’s voice. He had apparently decided not to come all the way to the playground this time, and I didn’t blame him. Last time he made the trip, his return was painful, slippery, and embarrassing.

Stu bent his long body and picked up the ball. “Play you for it, dude,” he said.



“If you win, you can have your football. If we win, we get to keep the football.”

“Who’s we?” Chad Logan asked.

Yeah—who was we?

“Me and Bird Bones,” Stu said.

“That’s it?” Chad said. “Just you and Bird Bones?”

It sounded like that’s exactly what he meant. “Wait,” I said. “Stu. I don’t—”

“I’m in.”

I turned. It was Clara. She stood up and set her book on the now-wobbling tire. I think this was her way of marking her territory. Just because I’m not here, she seemed to be saying, doesn’t mean anyone’s allowed to take my spot.

“You, Bird Bones and Clarasil,” Chad said. “That makes three.”

“I want to play, too!”

I turned some more. It was Justin Richards. Stumpy, mind-wandering, almost-as-short-as-I-was Justin Richards.

“You, Bird Bones, Clarasil and Just Rich.” Chad smirked. “Anyone else?”


We all turned and found some little kid stepping away from a slid and heading in our direction. He couldn’t have been more than a fourth grader.

“Me, too!”

“Me, too!”

“Can I play?”

“How about me? Can I play, too?”

Shouts came from all over the playground. Within a few seconds, a whole line of elementary school kids stood next to me.

I looked at Stu. He still held the football in one hand. The other hand rubbed his chin.

“All of us,” he said, “versus all of you.”

The whole thing was pretty inspirational. I’d been hoping to play football at recess for years, and now I was going to get my chance.

I should have been excited, but when I looked at our competition I realized I’d never really thought the situation through. Our opponents seemed suddenly huge.

They were just guys from my class—I knew that. But, compared to most of us, they might as well have been NFL linemen.

“Let’s get this over with, Chad,” one of them hollered.

“We’ll pummel them and then we’ll take our ball back,” said another.

Chad considered it. Then he smiled. “We’ll do it if you promise not to cry to a teacher when we’re done.”

I, for one, couldn’t promise anything of the sort. What did they mean by pummel us? That didn’t sound like touch football. And we weren’t playing on snow here. We weren’t even playing on grass. This was ice. Slick, thick ice. Getting pummeled would hurt badly enough on a regular surface. But on this stuff? No way, I thought. The only reason I’m not going to cry is because I’m not going to play.

“You’re on,” Stu said.

That’s when all the other puny elementary kids let out a battle bellow. Well, it was more like a battle squeal. But still, their courage was impressive. I’ve never been one to be ashamed of cowardice—not if it’s justified. Stupid courage is just that—stupid. But then again, even I had standards. I didn’t need to be as brave as your average middle schooler, but I did need to be as brave as your average fourth grader. Besides, how dangerous could this really be? Stu was the one who came up with the challenge, so it was fair to assume he’d be the one with the ball most of the time. He was plenty skinny, so there was a chance he’d be snapped in two. But he was also almost seven feet tall, so you couldn’t really say he was at a size disadvantage.

Maybe the eighth graders wouldn’t be able to catch up to Stu’s long-legged strides, I thought.

Even if they did catch up to him, well, he brought this on himself. If he wanted the football so badly, he could have it.

“Okay, team,” Stu said after our team huddled up. “When in doubt, get the ball to Bird Bones.”

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“Relax, dude—you’ll do great.”

“Why don’t you take the ball?”

“On this ice? No way, dude.”

“You’re the one who got us all into this!” I protested.

“My legs are too long, Bird Bones. I won’t be able to stop or change directions without falling. But your puny legs are perfect for this terrain. Your steps are so itty bitty you probably won’t even notice you’re on ice.”

I think he meant that as a compliment.

In any case, he wasn’t kidding. Stu tossed me the ball on the first play and, well, to this day I can’t explain it.

Except to say Stu was right.

I ran around five or six guys before anyone touched me. The same thing happened on the next play. You know that scene in one of the Star Wars movies when the Empire’s big hulking four-legged metal contraptions are tripped up by the Alliance’s little fighter jets?  That’s exactly what this felt like. I was a fighter jet as the other team stumbled and fell like they were made of rusted metal. I’d been so worried I’d get splatted on the ice, but they were the ones going SPLAT!

“Everyone,” Chad finally ordered, “get Bird Bones! He’s their only player!”

That’s when Stu faked the handoff to me and threw the ball instead. Clara Berns was wide open. After she caught the ball, she could have walked the rest of the way past the cone that marked the end zone. But she didn’t. Clara kept running until she crossed the goal line. Just as I’d suspected, she was really, really fast.

I’d like to tell you this was a true Cinderella story. But that would be dishonest. There was no great upset. David didn’t beat Goliath.

We lost. By more than one touchdown.

The eighth grade guys got to keep their ball and their field.

But we didn’t get pummeled. At least not literally.

All of us walked away relatively unharmed. We even scored a few more touchdowns. When one of the little kids scored, he spiked the ball and did an end zone dance that lasted several minutes. When Just Rich wandered with the ball into the end zone, he just kept on wandering twenty, thirty, forty more yards. I don’t think he would have stopped wandering if we hadn’t chased him down and brought him back to the field.

No, we didn’t win, but it felt almost like we did.

Clara even high-fived me.

“I didn’t know anyone could run on ice like that, Patrick,” she said.

Then she walked back to the playground to get her book.

I didn’t know you knew my name, I thought.

Stu Stories: The Adventures of Dirt Clod and His Sidekick, Bird Bones


Stu Stories
The Adventures of Dirt Clod and His Sidekick, Bird Bones
by Patrick “Bird Bones” Hueller
Illustrations by Adam Record

Stu Sanderson is no ordinary eighth-grader. Almost seven feet tall, he vanishes into thin air, duels knights with ninja stealth, lifts the downtrodden, and woos the coolest, best-calved girl in school.

Become a middle-grade legend with Stu and his sidekick, Bird Bones, on the journey of a lifetime in Stu Stories.

Available now!

Product Details
Title: Stu Stories: The Adventures of Dirt Clod and His Sidekick, Bird Bones
Author: Patrick Hueller
Publisher:Cedar Fort, Inc.
Perfect Paperback: 160 pages
ISBN-13: 9781462119554
Publication date:11/01/2016
Price: $10.99

“Stu and Bird Bones’ adventures are hilarious, sometimes horrifying, and definitely legendary. This book hits on pretty much every topic I cared about when I was a kid (love, Jedis, severed legs, etc.).”

Geoff Herbach, author of Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders


“Really fun . . . has tones of Wayside School and Maniac Magee and How Angel Peterson Got His Name.”

—Kurtis Scaletta, author of Mudville


Stu Stories captures eighth grade life in its finest and wackiest form. A fun-filled zany ride!”

—Frank Cole, author of The Afterlife Academy


“Because I’m Patrick ‘Bird Bones’ Hueller’s brother, people ask me, ‘Did everything in Stu Stories really happen?’ But enough about Patrick. Let’s get back to talking about me.”

—Andy Hueller, author of Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth and other amazing books


“The more legendary this book becomes, the more legendary I become.”