October 16, 2009

Interview With The Author: Mike Leonetti

Author Mike Leonetti is back with his line of hockey history books aimed at children. In 2009 he has teamed up once again with illustrator Greg Banning to bring us The Rocket, the story of Maurice Richard.

Buy the book: | Amazon.ca - Chapters | Full Book Review

The book is also available in Canada in French: | Amazon.ca - Chapters|

I had the chance to interview the prolific author Leonetti about his new book:

1. You are a well established hockey author who has really embraced writing books aimed at children and youth. Why are you so interested in this audience?

When I was youngster I loved just about any book on hockey but in those days there was not much directed at children and youth. I think my kids’ books fill that void today very nicely. The books help to get kids (especially boys) reading at a young age because they like the subject matter. The sooner kids start reading the better off they will be and it will help them improve their communication skills from an early age.

2) You have a very successful line of hockey history themed children's books. It is an odd mix - stories for youngsters about hockey players who in some cases retired decades ago. What made you decide to go this route?

My wife, Maria, is an elementary school teacher and one day I asked her if she had a copy of Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater in her classroom. It was a book I heard lots about but had never read. She brought it home and after I read it, I decided Toronto Maple Leaf fans (of which I am one) deserved to have a children’s story about their team and a hero. I chose Darryl Sittler and highlighted his ten point night versus Boston on February 7, 1976.

The success of that book and its format was the inspiration for all the others – highlighting a hero from the past with a true event from his career and a small life lesson included as well. It has been a successful formula.

3) Did you have any trouble finding a publisher to buy into the idea?

At first, yes. I sent out the original manuscript for My Leafs Sweater (the Sittler story) to nine publishers and they all flatly rejected it without the slightest interest. I was doing some adult hockey history books with Raincoast Books out of Vancouver at the time and found out they also had a children’s line of books as well. I sent the story to my editor at the time, Brian Scrivener, and much to my happy surprise they said they would publish it. The series stayed with Raincoast until they stopped front list publishing. I am happy to say Scholastic Books has been publishing the stories for the last two years.

4) You obviously have found great success with this franchise. What is the secret to the success? Is it the first person narratives of an aspiring kid who parallels the legend in some way?

I believe people and kids especially want to believe in heroes. They want to be inspired by these great players and they also love the memories that go with a particular star (e.g. Bobby Orr’s famous overtime Stanley Cup winning goal). We all want to be like our hero in some way. Using a first person narrative adds a personal touch and the life lesson included with each book makes each story unique. I usually have some connection between the main character in the story and the hockey hero (e.g. getting his hockey card, a signed photo, watching them on Hockey Night in Canada, etc) to make the bond between the two stronger. All these factors add up to the success of the series.

5) How important to you is it to promote hockey history to future generations?

I’ve always loved history because the past helps us to understand where we are today. I think by focusing on hockey heroes from the far (and in some cases near) past, the series gives youngsters an idea of how hockey developed to the point where the game is today. It also gives the reader a chance to learn about some glorious achievements that have not been experienced by the current generation (e.g. a Canadian based team winning the Stanley Cup). The heroes of the past (like Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard) helped to make the NHL what it is today. I think it’s important to keep their accomplishments alive.

6) I bet you hear from a lot of parents who truly enjoy reading these books to their kids, as it is a trip down memory lane for them.

One of the nice things about these books is that they appeal to a wide audience. Grand parents, parents and kids alike all get some value out of the stories. One of the best letters I received was from a woman who said her husband cried when he read My Leafs Sweater. It brought back memories of going to Maple Leaf Gardens with his father and how they walked down the corridors and looked at the photos on the wall. He then read the story to his kids and shared that memory with them.

7) All your kids books are beautifully illustrated - either by Greg Banning, Shayne Letain or Sean Thompson. How important is their contribution to the success of the franchise?

I’m glad you asked that question. The illustrations are absolutely vital to the success of the series with Greg Banning’s work being especially strong due to his realistic style. I think Sean and Shayne had a different approach that worked well for awhile but when we switched to Greg’s realism, it made the books work even better. The illustrations bring the story to life especially when you consider that the artists have to create a main character with a family – not an easy task yet they all did it superbly!

8) Your newest release is The Rocket, about Maurice Richard, but also his brother Henri. Were they the greatest set of brothers in hockey history?

I would say the Richard’s are the most successful brother combination in NHL history. Between them they won a total of 18 Stanley Cups – a truly remarkable total. I am so pleased that I was able to give Henri a little bit of recognition in this story – he definitely deserves it. He did attend many of the Rocket’s games as a little boy with his father. I also like the Mahovlich (Frank and Peter) and Hull brothers (Bobby and Dennis) having watched them play some great hockey for their respective teams.

9) You brilliantly introduce the Rocket through the eyes of a couple of kids who constantly have to deal with being compared to a big brother. Did you play hockey, and were you constantly compared to him too?

Thanks for the compliment. As the oldest of three, I was never in the position of being compared to an older sibling. I am eight years older than my brother and sixteen years older than my sister so I focused on setting a good example for them (especially since my Mom and Dad were immigrants to Canada and did not speak much english during my early years). With such a large age difference we each had different friends and interests which did not pose a problem. I am happy to say all of us have done very well. I will also tell you that I was one of the best ever road hockey players to come out of Whitmore Avenue in Toronto!

10) What were some of your favorite hockey books growing up?

I would go to the library and get every hockey book I could find. I have many of them now at home in my own library and the ones I liked the most as a kid were:

Hockey Night in Canada by Foster Hewitt, Hockey is a Battle by Punch Imlach, Hockey Dynasty by Jack Batten, The Men in the Nets by Jim Hunt, A Boy at Leafs Camp by Scott Young, Number 9 Gordie Howe by Jim Vipond, and Bobby Orr and the Big, Bad Bruins by Stan Fischler. A variety of books (Headline Hockey and Rocket Richard to name a couple) written by Montreal based author Andy O’Brien were also very well liked. There are many others I could mention but these come to mind most often.

11) We've also seen books by you on Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Paul Henderson. Who will we see in the future?

Without trying to dodge the question let me say that the plan will be to issue a new story each year. It is also quite likely that we will continue to focus on heroes of the past but we might try to do a current player at some point. Players from the ‘Original Six’ teams will likely be prominent but heroes from other teams will be also be given ample consideration. I won’t reveal any names right now but I hope that will keep some intrigue as to who will be next.


Deborah Hill,  January 27, 2010 at 11:06 AM  

I am trying to contact Mike Leonetti. My Gr. 3 class have been doing a hockey unit, using alot of his books. We'd really like to contact him. My e-mail is

jazlynne January 28, 2010 at 8:01 PM  

this is jazlynne martin i am in deborah hills gr 3 class i want to contact with mike leonettii think his books are cool i really want to met him we use his books in class my e mail is tjlk4ever326@hotmail.com

Anonymous,  January 28, 2010 at 8:04 PM  

this is jazlynne martin i am in deborah hills gr 3 class i want to contact mike leonetti i think his books are cool we use them in class me email is tjlk4ever326@hotmail.com

Unknown October 29, 2014 at 11:44 AM  

Our school (Library) is planning a special project involving Mike's books for January 2015....where should I send the letters that the children are going to be writing to Mike (name & Address of Publishers). coreen.atkins@ocdsb.ca

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