Author Spotlight

“Humor is a big part of me, perhaps because I find life hard to get through without looking on the funny side. But humor is not why I write, it’s kind of a side dish that comes with the main course. More important for me is that my work projects warmth, love, compassion and a feeling of family,”—Robert Kimmel Smith

Robert Kimmel Smith’s The War with Grandpa has received 11 State Reading Awards including the William Allen White Award and the California Young Reader Medal. Robert Kimmel Smith is the recipient of the New York Knickerbocker Award for Juvenile Literature for the body of his work.


Robert Kimmel Smith was eight years old when he read his first book, a book that moved him enough to make him cry. It turned out to be a life-defining event, because after that experience he decided not only that he loved reading, but also, luckily for us and for his millions of fans, that he wanted to become a writer. Little did he know that he would grow up to become an award-winning author, whose books have sold millions of copies and are making a difference to millions of children.

It would take thirty years for his dream to become a reality. He embarked on his writing career in 1970 after leaving the advertising business. But as Smith himself described it, his foray into writing books began entirely by accident and he credits his daughter with getting him started. It seems that one night he was making up a bedtime story for his daughter, Heidi. As he was spinning his yarn, it began to grow and grow and take on a life of its own. Heidi urged him to finish the story, which ultimately became his first book, Chocolate Fever. Heidi must have known that there was something delicious about that story, because Chocolate Fever went on to sell almost two million copies.

But, ideas for books don’t always come that easily. Ideas come to Smith from life experiences, from things that happened to him personally or from things that happened to people he knew. Jelly Belly was drawn from his own childhood, when he was the fattest child in fifth grade. The War with Grandpa was inspired by events that involved his son, Roger, who one day told him that he loved his room and “never wanted to live anywhere else.” That gave him the idea to write a story about a boy who has to give up his room for his grandfather. And what an idea it was, for The War with Grandpa garnered 11 state reading awards (five within one six-week period) including The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (Vermont), The South Carolina Children’s Book Award, and The Mark Twain Award (Missouri), among others.

Mostly Michael was written for some fifth graders who asked Smith to write about an “average” kid who doesn’t like school. According to Smith, he wrote The Squeaky Wheel because he wanted kids to know that there was life after parents divorce, and that kids have to speak up for their rights. Though told with humor, it is a powerful book that won the 1990 Parents’ Choice Award for Story Books.

Some authors are highly structured, outlining every step of a book’s process. But Smith starts with a hero, an opening situation, and a loose idea of where the story will go. “I don’t want to know everything; that would be too boring for me. So in a sense I am discovering the story along with my characters,” says Smith.

The message he wants to convey to children with his books is simple but fundamental: “Get the most out of yourself, enjoy life, and be good to people along the way.” He says that he also writes about making moral choices, without lecturing his readers. Smith says “I think I wrote Chocolate Fever just to say ‘you can’t have everything every time you want,’ which is a basic truth except for the IRS.” But there is a far more basic reason that Smith writes books: “My secret agenda is to create books so entertaining they get kids hooked on reading, particularly boys, who need help.”

Robert Kimmel Smith was born in Brooklyn, New York. He still lives in Brooklyn with his wife Claire in a big old Victorian house. They have two grown children: Heidi and Roger. Robert and Claire both love to cook, and both are fanatic baseball fans. They go to movies and the theater. Smith plays tennis, swims, gardens, and tries not to gain weight.

Robert Kimmel Smith’s works include: Chocolate Fever, Jelly Belly, Mostly Michael, The War with Grandpa, Bobby Baseball, and The Squeaky Wheel. In addition to writing award-winning books for children, Robert Kimmel Smith has also written five adult novels, numerous short stories and plays, and the script for the television production of Chocolate Fever for CBS StoryBreak.


“Smith delivers his most satisfying performance to date.”—Starred, Booklist

“This is an upbeat, refreshing celebration of the spirit of our national pastime.”—Publishers Weekly

“There never seems to be enough baseball stories; a welcome addition.”—Kirkus Reviews

“You’ve heard of too much of a good thing? You’ve never heard of it the way it happens to Henry Green. Henry’s a chocolate maven, first class. No, that’s too mild. Henry’s absolutely freaky over chocolate, loco over cocoa. He can’t get enough, until—aaarrrfh! Brown spots, brown bumps all over Henry. It’s (gulp) Chocolate Fever, Robert Kimmel Smith’s pleasantly unpreachy cautionary tale.”—The New York Times Book Review

“It’s all quite preposterous and lots of laughs, and so are the cartoon illustrations.”—Publishers Weekly

“Told with humor and careful detail by someone who has been there, this will be enjoyed by the thin as well as the fat.”—Children’s Book Review Service

“Smith shows a rare understanding of the process of growing up.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Entertaining and substantive; Smith’s readers will be pleased.”—Booklist

“A thoughtful depiction of the effects of divorce . . . strong characterizations.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Smith hits upon a lot of truths.”—School Library Journal

“Mark is a character who will engage readers.”—The Bulletin


“The humor of the story derives from Peter’s first-person account and from the reader’s recognition of Peter’s valiant effort to maintain two mutually exclusive emotions.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“Peter tells his story with honesty and humor. . . . By the story’s end, Peter has learned much about the causes and effects of war—and human dignity.”—School Library Journal