In the Acknowledgements section of my 2010 book for middle-grade readers, Justin Fisher Declares War!, I credited an inspiring young man for, well, inspiring me:
The boy’s name was Jackson Murphy.
Maybe you’ve seen him on television.
Long story short: I first spied Jackson while on a school visit. I had met his father previously, so on this day a preternaturally poised, articulate, very sweet fifth-grade boy came up and introduced himself to me. I was aware that Jackson had done some movie reviews on local television. I didn’t realize that his career as the next Roger Ebert was about to blow up. We spoke for a while, then I got back to my job that day as dancing monkey guest author.
An observer might have thought that Jackson was meeting me, the famous author. Turns out that I was meeting him! I should have asked for an autograph.
Months later, I returned to research the student Talent Show the school put on that year. Two energetic organizers of the program, Ms. Jackson and Ms. Zapka, kindly sat down with me to answer my many questions about the show: how they organized it, how they selected talent, any humorous observations, etc. I knew right away that I wanted to use the idea for my half-finished book. They told me about one boy in particular who served as the show’s Master of Ceremonies. A preternaturally poised, articulate, very sweet fifth-grade boy named . . . Jackson Murphy.
I loved all of it, especially how a troublesome student — not the real Jackson, but my fictional character, Justin — might experience success on the stage before an audience. A kid who struggled everywhere else in school, finally finding a place where he could shine. I even stole a couple of jokes that Jackson used that night at Red Mill Elementary.
I say all this because the real Jackson has become something of a Big Deal. He will be appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno this Friday night. You see, Jackson bills himself as “America’s #1 Kid Critic,” and goes as “Lights-Camera-Jackson” professionally, and has appeared on local and national television many times over the past few years. He’s met Seth Myers, Regis Philbin, Barbara Walters, Wile E. Coyote and many more.
In 2010, Jackson became the youngest person to win a New York Emmy Award for his movie review segments.
Not bad for a little peanut. Jackson is a good kid enjoying some incredible experiences. And so far, by all reports, he’s got both feet firmly on the ground. Congratulations, Jackson, I’m proud of you — and I’ll be watching.
Hat Tip to my favorite pop culture site, Pop Candy, for the heads up. Whitney Matheson rocks.
Here’s a scene from Chapter Eleven, when Justin auditions for the Talent Show:
“Do you need any props, or a table?” Ms. Lobel asked. “I see that you’re trying out as a magician.”
“Well, no, not exactly,” Justin said.
“I hope it’s not a problem,” he said, looking at both teachers. “It’s just that I had . . . another idea. Last night. When I was lying in bed. Freaking out about the audition.”
People laughed. Ms. Lobel smiled. Justin felt that familiar happiness — laughter always made him feel good.
Earl Watkins called out, “He’s really good at falling off chairs!”
Justin grinned, sheepish. “It’s true,” he confessed. “I fall down a lot, but I always get back up again.” Justin swallowed hard, then blurted it out, the plan he had come up with the night before. “I want to be . . . you.”
Mrs. Mooney looked confused. “I don’t –“
“I want to be the MC,” Justin explained. “You know, introduce the acts, tell jokes, maybe wear a nice jacket and tie, comb my hair, like on the Academy Awards.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Mooney said. There was cold water in her voice.
PART TWO OF THE DEATH-DEFYING ALAN SILBERBERG INTERVIEW LANDS HERE ON FRIDAY.