Derby, Ken 1956–

views updated

Derby, Ken 1956–

(Kenneth R. Derby)


Born January 25, 1956, in CO; married; wife's name, Valeria; children: Tony, Alisha. Education: Southwest Baptist University (Bolivar, MO), B.S. (elementary education), 1978; Drury University, M.Ed., 1983. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing, swimming, biking, spicy food, alternative rock music.


Office—c/o American International School of Budapest, P.O. Box 53, Budapest 1525, Hungary. Agent—George M. Nicholson, Sterling Lord Literistic, 65 Bleeker St., 12th Fl., New York, NY 10012. E-mail—[email protected]


Teacher, writer, and speaker. Bolivar R-1 School District, Bolivar, MO, teacher, 1978-84; Saudi Arabian International School, Riyadh, teacher, 1984-89; Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, MO, teacher 1989-90; American International School of Budapest, Budapest, Hungary, teacher, beginning 1990. Presenter at conferences and schools as a visiting author. Southwest Baptist University, cross-country running coach, 1982-84.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild.

Awards, Honors Write-It-Now competition honorable mention, 2005, for manuscript "Dracula: The Real Story"; International Reading Association/Children's Book Council Children's Choice designation, 2005, for The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade.


The Ghost Memoirs of Robert Falcon Scott, Royal Fireworks Press (Unionville, NY), 1999.

The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004, reprinted as The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to International Educator and International Schools Services Newslinks newspapers.


"From high school through graduate school, I was encouraged by my teachers to pursue writing, but I ignored them," recalled Ken Derby, a teacher and the author of the children's books The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade and The Ghost Memoirs of Robert Falcon Scott. Derby's second career as a writer began as the result of a class he was teaching at the American International School in Budapest, Hungary, where he has worked since 1990. Joining with a colleague to develop a cross-curriculum program integrating literature and a social-studies unit on Antarctica, the teachers could not find a children's novel that takes place in Antarctica. "Many were set in the Arctic, but none in Antarctica," Derby explained, "so my colleague jokingly suggested that I write one. I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I did extensive research and spent twelve months writing the historical fiction story The Ghost Memoirs of Robert Falcon Scott.

"Meanwhile, in 1996 I visited New York City with my two children. My eight-year-old son wanted to attend the Late Show with David Letterman, but couldn't because audience members have to be older. We discussed that the only way he could see the Late Show at a young age was to be invited as a guest on the show. We also discussed the improbability of this. He accepted this fact of life, but didn't like it. A few days after our discussion he came to me and suggested that I write a story about a kid who would do anything to be invited to be a guest on the Late Show, and bingo … a story was born.

"While the birth of The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade may have been painless, it took eight years of revisions, rejections, and finding and agent for me to [find a publisher]. It was published because I simply never quit believing in the story. Tony Madison, the novel's main character, has been described as very likable, but he's not exactly a role model for good behavior. He even gets a tattoo during the story. I have been asked if I was worried about whether or not I'd get flack from parents and teachers about Tony. Well, I can say that a guy that has tattoos and earrings and sports a shaved head is not concerned about flack from parents and teachers. I don't look like a stereotypical grade-four teacher; I look like a Mafia thug. So the question is irrelevant to me. Once again, I'm not writing for parents and teachers. I'm writing for kids. A lot of stuffy adults are going to be critical because Tony doesn't make a positive life change by the end of the story. He's still the same mischievous kid that he was at the beginning."

Noting that the time he spends as a classroom teacher has given him an ear for realistic preteen dialogue, Derby is quick to note that his students have contributed to the success of his novel by listening to various working drafts of The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade (later reprinted as The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School,) over the years. "When they laughed, or talked about scenes extensively, I knew that that part of the story worked," Derby explained. "However, if there was dead silence and fidgeting during a particular scene, I knew it was time to revise. Interestingly enough, the story has been read to international kids around the world that have never even heard of David Letterman. They still loved the story. A good story is a good story. It's as simple as that."

Derby offered some advice to beginning writers. "First, write whenever you can," he suggested. "Don't chastise yourself if you can't write every day. The writing gurus who claim that you must write every day to be a successful writer must not live in the real world of jobs, parenting, studies, etc., There is only so much time in a day…. Terry Spencer-Hesser, a dear author friend of mine, once told me: ‘Writers often forget that they have to live life to write about it.’

"Second, never give up if you truly believe in your story. Third, revision is a good thing, even if it is painful. Fourth, most rules are meant to be bent or sometimes broken, so don't be afraid to break the unwritten rules of children's literature. And finally, on occasion go to a rock concert, take a hike in a serene forest, or go fishing in your grandfather's farm pond. Leave your computer and story behind … and enjoy life."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade, p. 1200.

School Library Journal, January, 2005, Terrie Dorio, review of The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade, p. 90.

Washington Post Book World, August 27, 2006, review of The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School, p. D8.


Ken Derby Home Page, (July 15, 2007).