Todd Strasser writes his books largely out of his own experience or remembered feeling, and always with his readers in mind. He tries to observe young people whenever he can, and when he can't, he will eavesdrop on their conversations in places where they hang out. One of his favorite things to do is visit schools, where he talks about what it's like to be a writer. “Then, after I speak,” he says, “I listen to the audience. I can learn as much from them as they can from me.”
Strasser grew up in a suburb of New York City, and says he was an “underachiever” in school. “I was a poor writer, a terrible speller, and wasn't given any encouragement at all until I got to college.” Although he admits to having a happy childhood, his teens years coincided with the sweeping social revolution of the 1960s, and he was attracted to its anti-establishment elements. “I didn't do much when I first went to college. When it became clear that I would not have to go to Vietnam, I dropped out and did not go back to school until I really knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a writer.”
By this time he had already begun to write some poetry and short fiction, but did not expect his work to be published. He hitchhiked around Europe and the U.S. and lived for a while on a commune in Virginia. He kept journals and wrote letters. He began to fill up on experiences that would help shape him as a person and a writer.
At Beloit College, he took courses in literature and creative writing. After graduating, he had jobs as a newspaper reporter and advertising copywriter. “But,” he says, “I was never happy telling someone else's stories. I wanted to tell my own.”
Todd Strasser is not just an “author” but a writer in the fullest sense. He contributes articles to such periodicals as the New Yorker, Esquire, The New York Times, and The Village Voice. He writes for television, too, and has adapted novels from movies (such as Free Willy) and TV films (such as The Wave) into well-crafted novels that children can enjoy as a reading experience. “It's fun to write novelizations like Home Alone and Free Willy. I also find that these books help me establish a rapport with young people. It seems to make them eager to read my other books.”
Many of his early books were for young adults, and he still enjoys writing for teenagers, but more recently he has “embarked in a new humorous direction for upper elementary and middle school readers.” Help! I'm Trapped in My Teacher's Body is about a boy who by accident trades bodies with his goofy science teacher, Mr. Dirksen. “My goal with these books is to let kids see that reading can be fun and maybe even make them laugh out loud.”
Todd Strasser believes that “most kids today want books with characters they can identify with. They want to be entertained, not preached to. I try to make my books funny, but not frivolous.” Young people, he believes, face the same predicaments regardless of their generation. “The kind of music changes, or what they wear may change, but dealing with being popular, friends of the opposite sex, or questions of morality and decency. . . those things don't really change.”