Tag Archives: Tommy Greenwald

Author! Children’s Author!

Westport has a long history with children’s books. Hardie Gramatky illustrated classics like “Little Toot.” Robert Lawson wrote and drew “Rabbit Hill,” and illustrated “The Story of Ferdinand.”

While it’s easy to mourn the loss of artistic icons like these, we still play an important role in children’s literature.

Our neighbors include noted authors of historical fiction, multicultural-themed books, humor, plays — you name it.

Tracy Newman wanted to know more. She talked to some of Westport’s biggest names. Here is her report.


Sari Bodi writes plays based on myths and fairy tales for children’s magazines published by Scholastic. She credits the opportunity to fellow Westporter Lauren Tarshis — the New York Times best-selling author of the “I Survive” middle grade series, and an editorial director of children’s magazines at Scholastic.

It was in Westport that Sari transformed from writing plays and short stories for adults. She joined a children’s books writing group, hosted by Barnes & Noble (which has a robust program of author readings too).

She also appreciates the Westport Library. They help with research, and sponsor a young adult novel reading group that Sari took part in.

Sari enjoys walks on the beach and dinners with fellow writers, where they discuss current projects and the state of children’s publishing.

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Tommy Greenwald

Tommy Greenwald is Westport’s hottest current young adult author. He specializes in funny stories for upper elementary and middle school children (the Charlie Joe Jackson series, which began with their “Guide to Not Reading”).

Tommy — a 1980 Staples High School graduate — also wrote “Game Changer,” a serious book about youth sports, and a picture book.

He writes at both Barnes & Noble, and the Westport Library. Tommy appreciates too Westport’s proximity to New York, for meetings with editors, agents and publicists.


Tracy Newman says, “The Westport community supports my writing in many ways — from forming critique groups and discovering like-minded pals, to offering a variety of classes, to providing a world-class library full of friendly faces, helpful staff and nearly limitless resources.”

Newman takes advantage of nearby New York City too, with trips to the Public Library, writing conferences and — as a writer of Jewish-themed books — events at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Jewish Book Council.

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Michaela MacColl

An author of historical fiction for middle school and young adult readers, Michaela MacColl has found many writing friends in Westport. She helps other authors too, organizing periodic meetings for local children’s authors.

The Westport Historical Society is an excellent resource for Michaela’s many questions. She finds inspiration in Westport’s history, especially cemeteries. (The lower one at Greens Farms Congregational Church is her favorite.)

Barnes & Noble hosts her writing group and authors’ book launches, while school media specialists have invited her to speak to classes. The Westport Library has also brought Michaela in, for book talks, WestportREADS and the Saugatuck Storytelling Festival.


Susan Ross is the author of 2 middle grade novels. “Kiki and Jacques: A Refugee Story” was this year’s WestportREADS kids’ companion book.

A Westport Writers Workshop instructor, she also takes advantage of easy access to New York’s children’s writing and book events.


Christine Pakkala

Christine Pakkala has written for very young and elementary school children. She’s authored a middle school series, and is currently working on a young adult novel.

She calls Westport “a very supportive community,” because its readers are as passionate and enthusiastic as its authors. “They’re well-read, curious and supportive.”

In her spare time, she teaches at the Westport Writers Workshop.


Fiction and non-fiction picture book writer Karlin Gray says that Westport is wonderful for providing opportunities for connections to writers who need a break from their solitary pursuits.

Meetups at Barnes & Noble, classes at the library and workshops at writing centers have provided herwith a valued community. She cites Westporter Victoria Sherrow — author of more than 80 books — with helping transform 3 of Karlin’s manuscripts into publications.


We may have missed some other Westport children’s authors. If you know of any, add details below!

Tommy Greenwald: Football’s “Game Changer”

Like many Americans, Tommy Greenwald has a complicated relationship with football.

He was thrilled when his son Jack played.

“If I saw him limping or shaking his head, I’d say ‘Get back out there!'” Tommy says. “I was as happy to see my kid hitting and getting hit as anyone else.”

In 8th grade, Jack hurt his ankle. “My first concern was not going to the doctor,” Greenwald admits. “It was, could he finish the game?”

Jack had a great football career, with Westport PAL and Staples High School. His father appreciates what he learned from intense practices, tough games and his relationship with his coaches.

But, Greenwald says, “the football culture — with its pressure to be tough and strong, to play hurt, to not be perceived as soft” — has its downsides.

That’s the heart of “Game Changer.” Published this month, it’s the local author’s 10th book — and a departure from his previous “Charlie Joe Jackson” (named for his 3 sons) and “Crimebiters” young readers’ series.

Jack Greenwald (center), with his brothers Charlie and Joe.

There’s not a laugh to be had in this one. There are no wise guys, no dog with special powers.

“Game Changer” is deadly serious — almost literally.

13-year-old Teddy lies in a coma after a football injury during preseason camp. His family and teammates flock to his bedside to support his recovery — and at the same time trade rumors and theories on social media.

Was this a tragic but fairly common result of a violent sport? Or did something more sinister — bullying and hazing perhaps — happen on the field that day?

“Game Changer” is different type of book. It mixes together dialogue, text messages, newspaper stories — and Teddy’s own inner thoughts.

It’s different too in that it’s a no-holds-barred look at the terrifying risks of a major American sport — and the entire culture supporting it.

Greenwald is emphatic that this is a work of fiction. He added an author’s note to that effect at the end. He says he never saw or heard anything like what happened in “Game Changer” during Jack’s Westport career.

But, Greenwald says, it is “based on a culture I saw through Jack. It’s not far-fetched that this could happen. We’ve all heard about terrible cases in college, high school, even middle school.”

“Game Changer” is not, he insists, a condemnation of football. “My respect for coaches, the life lessons they taught, the lifelong friendships Jack made, is amazing,” Greenwald says.

He calls Westport PAL and Staples “great programs.” And Greenwald has done enough research to know that football in Fairfield County — while intense — is “a dust speck compared to programs around the country. When football is the dominant event in a community, the pressure ratchets up unbelievably. Westport seems to have a good balance. We don’t pin our hopes and dreams on young kids.”

But his book is “a wake-up call for everyone — including me,” he adds. “People — including me — have to pay more attention to the culture and the injuries” of football.

Tommy Greenwald

Greenwald never had to confront the even more dangerous effects of football at the higher level. Though Jack was “semi-recruited” for college, he ended up at Elon and did not play. He graduated from there last June, and now works at a Boston cyber-security firm.

“Jack’s era was a tipping point,” Greenwald says. “The media started focusing on concussions, and parents started looking at football differently. If Jack wanted to play in college, that would have been a much larger discussion.”

Greenwald — who won a state championship as a Staples High School soccer captain in 1978, and whose son Joe was a Wrecker soccer captain in 2012 — remains a “huge” NFL fan.

“I read, like everyone else, about the dangers,” he says. “And like everyone else I camp out every Sunday looking for the best games.

“It’s a weird feeling to like a game you probably shouldn’t.”

(Tommy Greenwald will host a discussion on the pros and cons of youth sports at Barnes & Noble this Sunday [October 7, 12 p.m.] Panelists include his own son Jack; former Staples High School, Temple University football captain and Staples assistant coach Mac DeVito, and Dan Woog — in my role as Staples boys soccer head coach.)

Tommy Greenwald’s Malady

Nearly everyone in Westport knows Tommy Greenwald. The 1979 Staples High School grad co-founded Spotco, the New York agency specializing in Broadway and entertainment advertising. (You may have heard of one of their clients — a little show called “Hamilton.”)

He’s also the author of the “Charlie Joe Jackson young adult book series. The names come from his 3 sons. If you think Tommy (and his wife, fellow Westport native Cathy Utz) are proud parents, you’re absolutely right.

All 3 kids are already out of Staples. The oldest — Charlie — just graduated from Emerson College.

But they’re all back home. Which leads us to Tommy’s guest post on “06880” today…

Tommy Greenwald

Tommy Greenwald

Most people are well aware of Empty Nest Syndrome, those feelings of melancholy and nostalgia that parents experience when their last child goes off to college or moves away.

Much less frequently examined is Full Nest Syndrome, when the kids return en masse to turn your newly peaceful life upside down.

This affliction is more common than you might think, and scientists are finally learning more about it. For those suffering from Full Nest Syndrome, it’s important to remember: You are not alone.

Here are some symptoms most commonly associated with FNS:

  1. Your head pounds from all the deafening hip hop music in the house.
  2. Your back hurts from picking up all the dirty clothes.
  3. Your blood pressure rises from seeing all the empty cartons in the fridge.
  4. Your throat is sore from arguing about who gets the car.
  5. Your energy is low from being woken up at 2 a.m. by slamming doors, loud voices, video games or beer pong (take your pick).
  6. Your heart is full from having all the kids home again — if only for a little while.
Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald, settled back at home.

Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald, settled back at home.

 

Tommy Greenwald Hangs At The White House

Tommy Greenwald spent Monday practicing his command to the taxi driver: “The White House, please.”

When he actually got in the cab, he added: “And not for the tour.”

He and his wife, Cathy Utz, were headed for the Alexander Hamilton gate on 15th Street. After 3 airport-like security screenings — and an “unglamorous” entrance through a tent area, rather than “strolling through the front door,” as he’d imagined — the Westport couple entered the White House.

Tommy — a longtime Westporter and Staples Class of 1979 grad — is a co-founder of Spotco. The New York agency specializes in Broadway and entertainment advertising. A client is fellow Westport resident Harvey Weinstein.

Tommy Greenwald invitationThe film executive helped arrange “Broadway Day” at the White House. Students from across the country came together to enjoy performances, and learn about acting, singing and dancing. Andrew Lloyd Webber was there. Kristin Chenoweth served as host.

Michelle Obama welcomed everyone to her home. (Her husband was on a business trip, to Turkey.) Among the guests — thanks to Weinstein — were Tommy and Cathy. He got them tickets, because Tommy had created a pro bono video for the event. It airs Thanksgiving night on TLC (Optimum channel 28, 8 p.m.).

Cathy Utz and George Washington.

Cathy Utz and George Washington.

Neither Tommy nor Cathy had been in the White House before. He borrowed a tie from his son Joe. “I hadn’t worn one in 7 years,” Tommy notes. “That was the most stressful part — figuring out what to wear so I wouldn’t get tossed out.”

After being herded into a holding area — filled with things like “Benjamin Harrison’s dinner setting,” Tommy says — the group filed into the East Room. Tommy says it’s “just like any other small performance space, except for all the military people there.”

Three days after the Paris attacks, he and Cathy felt grateful to meet the men and women who protect America.

Michelle Obama - photo Tommy Greenwald

First Lady Michelle Obama enters the East Room. (Photo/Tommy Greenwald)

The First Lady strode in. “She looked fine!” Tommy says.

She gave an introductory speech; then the hour-long concert began. That was followed by a “big nosh cocktail reception.”

It was like any other social event, Tommy says, “except every room was ridiculously gorgeous, with portraits of presidents and first ladies.”

There was nothing saying “White House” that he could steal, he says — “just napkins in the bathroom.” He took a few, for his office staff in New York.

“I was hoping for better tchotchkes,” Tommy admits. “Still, it was great.”

Being around Broadway and film stars, Tommy says, “I’m usually pretty jaded. But sitting 5 feet from Michelle Obama was pretty cool. My wife said she’s never seen me so wide-eyed.”

Tommy Greenwald at the White House piano. I asked if it was the same one Richard Nixon played. Tommy did not know -- but it was definitely the one Andrew Lloyd Webber sat at just a few minutes earlier.

Tommy Greenwald at the White House piano. I asked if it was the same one Richard Nixon played. Tommy did not know — but it was definitely the one Andrew Lloyd Webber used just a few minutes earlier.

Once the concert was over though, all the “incredible organization” ended. Tommy calls it “an interestingly informal free-for-all.”

Soon enough, it was back in a taxi. I did not ask Tommy what he told his driver on the return trip.

A Greenwald Family Two-Fer

In the theater world, a “two-fer” is 2 tickets for the price of 1.

In the Greenwald house, it’s 2 plays written by members of 1 family.

Charlie Greenwald is a junior at Emerson College. On Sunday, March 1, “Surprising Simon” — a play he co-wrote — will be staged there.

The winner of the school’s Rareworks Theatre Playwrights Festival, “Simon” is a farce based on a birthday party gone wrong at many turns.

Charlie’s many friends know he’s a masterful comic (check out his George W. Bush impersonation here). In Staples Players, he participated in shows like “West Side Story” and “Into the Woods.” At Emerson he’s a communications major, involved in both sports broadcasting and play writing.

Charlie and Tommy Greenwald.

Charlie and Tommy Greenwald.

Though his father Tommy is also one of the funniest folks around (check out his “Charlie Joe Jackson Guide to Not Reading” franchise here), the play he co-wrote is an intimate musical.

Set against the background of a changing America between 1950 and 1990, it probes the complex relationships between brothers and sisters, parents and children. It’s all about connections, commitments and the healing of the human heart.

John & Jen” — starring Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan — was first produced at Goodspeed. It opened off-Broadway in New York in 1995.

The show continues to have a healthy life in small theaters all over the country, and abroad. Now — 20 years later — it’s being revived by Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre on 42nd Street, through April 4.

Tommy — himself a 1979 Staples graduate — was not in Staples Players. (He was a soccer team captain.) But he’s an avid fan of the program. And he understands good theater: his day job is advertising Broadway shows.

So both Tommy and Charlie know something about two-fers. Of course, if you want to see both shows, you’ve got to buy 2 tickets.

(For ticket information on “John & Jen,” click here.)

It’s The 1st Day Of No School!

Like many Westporters, Tommy Greenwald and Cathy Utz long marked today — the 1st day of school — as a milestone on the annual calendar.

For 15 years, the couple watched their 3 boys — Charlie, Joe and Jack — move through the local schools. Each year they grew older, bigger, more independent. But the 1st day of school was always special.

This year is special too. Tommy and Cathy — themselves products of the Westport system — no longer have a child heading off to school here.

To celebrate/mourn, Tommy — author of the very popular “Charlie Joe Jackson” book series for young readers — wrote this poem. Enjoy/contemplate this “06880” exclusive.

Charlie, Joe and Jack Greenwald, back in the day.

Charlie, Joe and Jack Greenwald, back in the day…

It’s here! It’s finally here!
The first day of school!
The first day of the year!

There’s so much to do.
Try not to make a fuss.
And we can’t miss the school bus!

But wait.
Something is different this year.
Where are the children?
They’re not here!

There are no children to wake.
And no lunches to make.

That’s right!
They’re all grown!
Off to college, or other adventures all their own.

...and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald  more recently.

…and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald more recently.

So now what?
What do you do?

Do you sit around and mope?
Give up hope?
Possibly even bawl?

Absolutely not!
Well, maybe for a day or two.
You’re only human, after all.

But after that, enough.
Time to get tough.
Time to see what this can truly mean.
Peace. Quiet. Freedom. A house that’s truly clean!

A love to renew.
That long-delayed dream you can finally pursue.
That promise to yourself you can finally keep.
Or maybe just a good night’s sleep.

Just try to remember, whatever you choose.
This is honestly, truly good news.

Indeed, it’s time for the children to go.
Because guess what? Now it’s your turn to grow.

Cathy Utz and Tommy Greenwald drop their 3rd son, Jack, at college. They're now empty nesters!

Cathy Utz and Tommy Greenwald drop their 3rd son, Jack, at college. They’re now empty nesters!

A Greenwald Graduation Gracias

Longtime Westporters (and Staples grads Tom Greenwald and Cathy Utz) write:

Our youngest son, Jack, graduates from Staples this month, so it seems like a good time to express our thanks.

Thank you to the entire Westport school system, and every teacher, administrator, librarian, custodian, kitchen staff member, counselor, principal and member of the Board of Ed.

Thank you for steering our 3 children safely through their formative years.

Jack, Joe and Charlie Greenwald then...

Jack, Joe and Charlie Greenwald then…

Thank you for guiding them, helping them, praising them, chastising them, coaching them, directing them, comforting them and informing them.

Thank you for giving them the opportunity to run, jump, sing, dance, play, work, act, read, write, add, subtract, make friends and make strides.

Thank you for letting them join teams, casts, groups and clubs.

Thank you for letting them run around at recess, sit around at lunch and hang around during free periods.

...and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald today.

…and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald today.

Thank you for the kindergarten birthday parties, the 8th grade dances and the senior proms.

Thank you for teaching them how to respect others and think for themselves.

Thank you for returning them to us better people.

We will be forever grateful.

 

 

Charlie Goes To College

Tommy Greenwald is a multi-talented guy.

He’s the executive creative director at Spotco, an ad agency for Broadway shows.

He’s written the Charlie Joe Jackson book series (for reluctant readers), and john & jen (for musical theater-goers). 

Tommy Greenwald

He’s also a Staples grad — married to a fellow alum — and the father of 3 teenage boys.

Tommy’s blog (tagline: “A Shrine to  Everything Me”) is usually light-hearted. On Wednesday, though, he turned misty-eyed. He and Cathy had just left Charlietheir oldest — at college.

Tommy wrote:

I had to wait a day or two to write this post to make sure I could handle it.

On Monday we dropped our oldest son, Charlie, at Emerson for his freshman year. It was a memorable day, in every sense of the word.

I’m going to sound like a typical parent here, but Charlie is a remarkable person. Incredibly kind and extremely funny, he lights up any room he’s in. He’s a great son and a great friend.

So I knew it would be hard letting him go. But I didn’t quite realize how hard.

It first hit me about a week before he left. We’d had a great summer, he was in a fantastic mood, but one night I suddenly realized that in a week’s time, he’d be gone.

That was the first night I cried.

We had a great week after that, though. A lot of fun events, including my book launch events and a commercial shoot with Paul Rudd, kept us occupied and distracted.

But then came Sunday night.

Charlie, Joe and Jack Greenwald, two years ago.

Charlie hunkered down with his brothers Joe and Jack to watch the season finale of True Blood. They watched the show together religiously, every week. It was fortuitous that the season finale was broadcast the night before Charlie left for college and Joe and Jack had their first day of school.

I was watching Charlie as the show ended. He was completely wrapped up in the episode, but the second it ended, his face changed. It was as if he knew summer was officially over, and tomorrow he would be leaving. For the first time, I saw a hint of doubt and nervousness creep into his expression.

It was getting real.

We did a little packing and a lot of hugging that night, and I’m not gonna lie (one of Charlie’s favorite expressions), sleep was a little tough to come by.

The next morning, Monday, we sprung into action. Charlie and I took Moose and Coco for one last walk – his relationship with the dogs is a thing of beauty – and Cathy helped him with his last-minute packing (or should I say stuffing, since his suitcases were garbage bags. A great space-saving technique, btw.)

We hit the road about 11, and had a great drive up. Good conversation, a little nosh, easy traffic. We talked about a lot of things that made us feel good, including that fact that when you add it all up, he’s basically only at college 6 ½ months of the year, and home the other 5 ½ months. At these prices! Never have I been so grateful for being ripped off so royally.

Charlie Greenwald

We pulled into Boston around 2 and turned the corner onto Boylston Street, where we were immediately greeted by the uniquely Emersonian brand of happiness. Adorable students gave us our parking instructions while dancing in the streets; incredibly nice people all over the place got us checked in and situated while music blasted through the halls; we found Charlie’s room, which has a view of the Boston Common that rivals anything on Central Park West.

The hole in my heart was being nicely obscured by all the good vibes around us. But it was still there.

Cathy was a rock; Charlie seemed nervous but excited; and we were running out of excuses to stay by his side.

Finally, with the bed made, the clothes put away and the laundry lesson over, we all took the elevator to the lobby one last time. We contemplated going over to the campus store to take a look around, but Cathy said, “You know what? It’s time to go.” And she was absolutely right.

No long goodbyes, though. That was agreed upon well ahead of time. Cathy and I each gave Charlie a quick hug, kissed him, and sent him on his way. No looking back. Only looking ahead.

The ride home was not easy. Cathy and I cried. But we talked a lot, too, and managed to remind ourselves how blessed we are to have a son that we are going to miss so much.

Last night, Jack, the family computer whiz, hooked up our first video chat with Charlie. It was great to see him. He was funny and goofy. He seemed genuinely happy – although knowing him, even if he wasn’t, he’d pretend to be for our benefit. But I believed it. And since my happiness is in direct correlation with my children’s happiness, I was able to sleep a little better last night.

Time is a funny thing. Relentless, but forgiving. A stealer, and a healer. It’s also a paradox: I don’t want it to go fast, but yet I can’t wait to see my son again. In the meantime, we’ve got to sit our son Joe down this weekend and get down to business.

He’ll be applying to college this fall.

Tommy Greenwald’s Guide To Not Reading

Because kids hate to read, Westporter Tommy Greenwald has written…a book for them.

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide To Not Reading will be published this summer.  If it’s half as entertaining as the trailer, Tommy’s got a middle school best-seller.

A series of non-readers solemnly address the camera.

“I’d rather drop a full-size bowling ball on my toe” than read, one kid intones.

“I’d rather solve the Mideast peace process,” says another.

“I’d rather be grounded for life,” claims one more.

Then comes the next stage — bargaining:

“Don’t make me read!” one pleads.

“Ewwww…gross!” adds another.

Finally, grudging acceptance:

“Is it short?” one kid wants to know.

“Are there actual words in it?” wonders another.

“How much will you pay me to read it?” asks a third.

The real Charlie Joe Jackson.

The trailer ends with this quote from the hero, Charlie Joe Jackson:  “If my book inspires just one kid to become a reader…that’s one too many.”

The real Charlie Joe Jackson — Tommy’s 3 kids — had typical teenage reactions, according to their dad.

They refused to read the book.  After much back-and-forth, finally — when Tommy told them the main character was named after them — they agreed to look at it.

“They actually really liked it,”Tommy says with pride.

But they haven’t read another book since.

(Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading is available now by pre-order — for reluctant readers everywhere.  For more information, click here.)