“Back to Pass,” the fourth book Faribault’s Lisa M. Bolt Simons wrote for the “Choose to Win!” series for middle graders, is a football book with sub-plots about homelessness and a learning disability. But it’s more than that.
“It’s like a video game in print,” Simons said about the book. “Kids are so screen-heavy, and [my editor and I] wanted to give them an opportunity to play a game without a screen.”
The formula of each “Choose to Win!” book, designed by Simons’ editor Ryan Jacobson, puts readers in the main character’s position. At the beginning of each book, readers are instructed to calculate their “talent score” in one of three ways: giving themselves 2 points, rolling a die or by catching a ball up to six times. From there, readers earn points throughout the book by choosing their path.
“Most of my book ideas are inspired by my childhood memories and experiences,” said Jacobson. “For instance, I was a reluctant reader, so I try to write and publish books that appeal to everyone, including reluctant readers. Some of the few books I did enjoy reading back then were ‘Choose Your Path’ types of books, which is why so much of I what I do incorporates an interactive component.”
Simons, a teacher at Faribault Alternative Learning Center, initially got on board with the “Choose to Win!” books when Jacobson approached her at a writing conference and asked if she would like to write a sports book for the publishing company Lake7Creative. Having enjoyed being a sports mom for over a decade to her now college-aged twins, Jeri and Anthony, Simons agreed to take on the assignments.
“He told me he wanted three books,” said Simons. “I started with the hockey one first and decided to put in twins facing sibling rivalry. For the baseball book, I wanted to go deeper because, as a teacher, I know a lot of students face serious issues. That one’s about foster care.”
Simons wasn’t sure what to do for the sub-plot of the soccer book, so Jacobson suggested she develop a character who wants to be a writer. That inspired Simon to craft a character who, like her, doesn’t like math. But what Simons believes is more important is that the character is Somalian.
“I really felt strongly that the Somali community needed to get out there,” said Simons, who tied her decision with a movement called Mirrors & Windows. “Kids have been looking through windows at people. This [book] is a mirror that allows kids to read about themselves.”
Although the first three of the “Choose to Win!” books (“Save the Season!” “Out at Home” and “Goal-Minded”) are all set in Minnesota, Simons said “Back to Pass” is the first in the series to take place in a different state: Georgia. Since Jacobson hired a publicist for the most recent book, it’s more likely to reach a national audience with plenty of marketing.
One marketing method Jacobson suggested Simons apply to “Back to Pass” involved developing a “street team” comprised of fans (friends and family) who were assigned challenges to promote the book. Kelly Enrique, a teacher in Rochester, is one such fan who read “Back to Pass” to see if it would be of interest to her students.
“The book is perfect, providing situations to make decisions and review outcomes,” said Enrique. “Life is not black and white, and just because you follow what you think is best, it doesn’t mean everything will be perfect. It is also high interest being a football book, right now during football season.”
Simons has taught in the Faribault school district for 15 years and has considered herself a professional writer since January 2003. She’s published over 25 children’s books with several forthcoming. In addition, she’s written a non-fiction book for adults called “Faribault Woolen Mill: Loomed in the Land of Lakes.”
“I write whenever I can fit it in,” said Simons. “Some writers will wake up at 4 in the morning, but that’s not for me. I’m better with writing at night and on weekends. I don’t have a schedule; that’s why I like deadlines.”
Born in Las Vegas, Nevada, Simons grew up in Colorado and pursued a journalism degree at Drake University in Iowa. There, she met her husband, Dave, who came from Owatonna. She’s lived in Minnesota for 25 years.
“It’s a great place for writers, so I consider myself very lucky,” said Simons.
“Back to Pass” is available in print at a variety of bookstores, on Amazon, and also for Kindles. For additional information about Simons and her books, visit lisamboltsimons.com.