UF author regales middle schoolers with tale of awkward age

Todd Hasak-Lowy, the author of "33 Minutes Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt," a book about school bullying, speaks to students at Westwood Middle in Gainesville on Thursday.

Ashley Crane/Correspondent
Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 4:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 4:46 p.m.

Seventh grade was a pretty bad year for Todd Hasak-Lowy.

He had a bowl haircut and nerdy eyeglasses with Transitions lenses that were stuck in sunglass mode.

His best friend that year was Freckles the dog, a white and brown hound who was "really sweet, fairly stupid and very smelly" — and terrible at video games, since he didn't have thumbs.

So when Hasak-Lowy set out to write a children's book in fall 2010, at age 41, he decided to sum up all the awkwardness and confusion of seventh grade in a novel.

Hasak-Lowy, an assistant professor of Hebrew literature at the University of Florida, spoke Thursday to three seventh-grade classes at Westwood Middle School about his book, "33 Minutes." He'll chat today with fifth-graders at J.J. Finley Elementary School.

"It's helped me kind of appreciate and see the richness of this age," he said.

Hasak-Lowy spent one class period with the group in the Westwood media center, where they discussed plot development, friendship and the funniest thing that can happen at school: students messing with substitute teachers.

As he told the tale of his middle school years, about 60 pairs of eyes focused on him and widened knowingly. Many of them felt the same way.

Catalina Riveros, 12, said the beginning of seventh grade was OK. Then it was really bad, but it's getting a little better now.

She said she could relate to Hasak-Lowy's story, and she's hoping to read his book soon.

"It helps me feel better because I'm not the only one who feels horrible," Catalina said.

"33 Minutes" is the fictional story of seventh-grader Sam Lewis. The plot takes place in one day, April 12, with Sam counting down the minutes until recess, when his former best friend Morgan Sturtz has promised to kick Sam's butt.

Hasak-Lowy has been touring with the novel, his third published work, which hit the shelves on Jan. 1. He will be at the University of Central Florida Book Festival on Saturday and reached out to some local schools to connect with students.

Seeing an opportunity to engage her pupils, Westwood media specialist Peggy Beland got in touch with him.

"It's the kind of book that students don't even know they're learning a lesson," she said. "Any time you can bring in an author, it encourages reading and writing."

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