Ben Mezrich had a problem with the books he wrote, and so did his wife, Tonya. The stories simply weren’t appropriate to read to their two young children.
Ben is the author of a number of bestsellers such as “Bringing Down The House,” the tale of a gambling ring led by MIT students; and “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook,” on which the Oscar-winning movie “The Social Network” was based.
The solution, Ben decided, was to write a children’s series, which Tonya eventually coauthored. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the couple will release “Charlie Numbers and the Woolly Mammoth,” the third book in the Charlie Numbers series, which follows a group of smart and curious kids on their adventures around Boston and is aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds.
“This whole thing [in the book] happens in the Public Garden,” Tonya said. “It’s loosely based on our son’s experience in the Public Garden on a field trip where I was a chaperone.”
In this newest addition to the series, Charlie and the Whiz Kids discover what appears to be a mammoth tusk in the Public Garden. With the help of (real-life) Harvard and MIT genome expert George Church, the group investigates where the tusk could have come from. The kids suspect the tusk has something to do with the sinister plans of billionaire Blake Headstrom, whose henchmen are constantly trailing them.
The book has a diverse cast of characters, including a new Whiz Kid named Janice, who uses a wheelchair. The authors approach all the characters’ identities very intentionally because they want the books to represent all the children of Boston.
“When we did some of these events at public schools, one person in the audience asked us about one of the kids on the cover who is Asian,” Tonya said. “This person who asked the question was Asian, and he said that he was very happy to see an Asian person. Kids need to see themselves in these books.”
Although they are now on their third book in the series and plan to write more, writing for children wasn’t exactly intuitive for the couple at first, as Ben’s main audience is adults, and Tonya writes about fashion.
When they began the Charlie Numbers books, Tonya quickly let Ben know that he couldn’t expect middle schoolers to know words like “behemoth” and “homunculus.” (Side note: Ben said he has used the latter word in at least five of his books.) In an early read-through by an editor, the couple was chided for using swear words and having romantic relationships between 10 year olds.
“But, to be fair, bringing romance into a story about Mark Zuckerberg is just as hard,” Ben said, chuckling.
The duo said they have enjoyed the process of writing together as a married couple. It’s actually not that big a change, Ben admitted, because Tonya has always been an integral part of his writing process.
“I always say that she’s my secret weapon when writing my books,” Ben said. “We work together putting together an outline [for the Charlie Numbers books]. Tonya takes a shot at the heavy lifting by putting together some scenes. Then I jump in and flesh them out, so it’s actually been a cool back and forth.”