There’s only one rule to being an outlaw: Create your own path. That’s exactly what Robin Loxley does in Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw! This middle-grade comic/illustrated novel hybrid is carving out a special place for itself in the library through its uniquely engaging format. The series debuted last September—the first in Andrews McMeel Publishing’s recently launched line of Epic! Originals—and the second installment, The Friend Thief, releases April 14.
Our friends over at Epic! sat down with Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw author Gina Loveless to learn more about how she adapted Robin Hood stories into a relatable, hilarious, and heartfelt tell-all tale about growing up and making friends. Read the full Q&A, along with a special bonus interview with Robin, the 5th Grade Outlaw herself, below.
Gina Loveless, Author
Epic!: Why update the Robin Hood myth for present-day kids?
GL: Something I always thought was interesting about Robin Hood was that everyone really liked him, except the people he was stealing from. And that he felt he was doing the right thing, but he was still stealing. When the idea of an elementary school adaptation of Robin Hood came up, I thought to myself, that’s interesting.
Because if you apply that same idea—stealing from another kid because you don’t like what they’re doing—it really isn’t how they should handle it. I wanted to explore that concept. You wouldn’t encourage them to do that. But at the same time, you understand why Robin would want to do it.
Epic!: How do you choose themes for each book?
GL: For each book, I read old Robin Hood stories, and think about what would be similar for a little kid to go through. There’s not a lot of 10-year-olds shooting arrows in competitions, but there’s a lot of shooting hoops. There aren’t any kid sheriffs or police kids on a playground, but there are bullies, who may act like they control a situation more than they do. And going through the ups and downs with other kids you meet along the way, that always applies.
Even though a lot of what happened to Robin Hood in the old stories doesn’t directly apply to kids, there are still themes, like sportsmanship, bullying and friendship that can carry to today.
Epic!: What do you think makes Robin relatable to readers?
GL: I hope there are a few things about Robin that kids see in themselves too, but the big one that I think kids can understand—but don’t always know how to do—is that Robin’s big thing is believing in what’s fair. I know when I was a little kid, if I saw a bully taking over the playground, I would think, “somebody should do something about it,” but I was never brave enough to do it.
I hope that by seeing Robin try, and sometimes fail, but then try again, readers will find some bravery inside themselves to do what is right or to voice their concerns or opinions if they see something they feel isn’t fair.
Epic!: What message would you like the books to impart for young girls and boys?
GL: I think it’s important for kids to know they can make good choices, stand up for themselves and others, voice their opinions, and be strong brave kids.
I hope that Robin and LJ show kids that they should try to do the right thing. That sometimes when you put yourself out there like that, you’ll find out there are more kids who think the same thing than you realized (like how Robin finds LJ, Allana, Dale and Sammy).
Epic!: How did the character of Robin evolve?
GL: When I first thought of inspiration for Robin, I thought of some of my favorite misunderstood female characters. Those are Paris Gellar from “Gilmore Girls,” Helga from “Hey Arnold!” and Angelica Pickles from “Rugrats.” These are all tough girls whom most people don’t really care for. But I always thought their actions and choices were often misinterpreted. I always thought there was more to their story.
So when I was thinking about Robin, I thought, what if you took a tough girl like each of them and showed that sometimes it takes a girl like that to be brave and prideful to stand up for other kids? And that a girl like that is actually really kind, if you just got to know her, so that tough girls can see that they don’t need to be all tough all the time. Or so shy kids might want to be a little braver about speaking their mind.
Now a few words from Robin!
Robin Loxley, 5th Grade Outlaw
Epic!: Hello, Robin! Thanks for letting us interview you for the launch of your book! Are you ready for your first question?
Epic!: Okay, great. Tell us. What’s your biggest pet peeve?
RL: That’s an easy one. Kids who lie and cheat and do all the things that everybody knows you’re not supposed to do, and they just go and do it anyway. It’s totally not okay! Here I am, doing good stuff—like being nice to kids, shooting ball like a basketball goddess, stuff like that—and there are these other kids who think it’s okay to do bad stuff.
Like Nadia. She thinks it’s okay to charge kids bonus bucks—the reward we earn at our school—to use playground equipment. The school has playground equipment so kids can have fun at recess! Not so Nadia can steal bucks from kids and not earn them like everybody else! Ooh that Nadia gets under my skin.
Epic!: What does your hood mean to you? Is it a costume? A superpower?
RL: My hood is really important to me. I’ve learned that sometimes, I get too mad about stuff that I shouldn’t. I really try not to, but sometimes it feels like I can’t help it. The angry feelings just start bubbling up and I can’t push them back down.
It’s like the cheese on top of a lasagna straight out of the oven. You may want to eat a slice, but with all that cheese bubbling on top, there’s no way you’re going through it until you’ve cooled down.
I needed to find a way to cool down. And I’ve figured out something that really helps: my hood. When I put my hood up, it blocks me from the people around me a little bit. It lets me feel like I’m just by myself a little, even when I’m around other people.
Sometimes I need to do that so I can let myself cool down. It doesn’t always work. People around me will say more stuff to me and it’ll get me even more mad. But then I just pull on the strings and make the hood really close to my head and block out even more people. That usually helps.
Epic!: What advice do you have for other kids facing bullies on the playground?
RL: First of all, I’m super sorry to whoever else has kids like Nadia on their playground. It’s hard to say what I think kids should do. Because I’ve tried to stick up for myself and other kids by trying to outsmart bullies, but it didn’t always work. And sometimes, I’ve tried to just ignore them, and that didn’t always work either. But I guess the lesson—or at least that’s what my mom would call it—is that I tried.
So I guess I’d tell kids that they should try whatever they can think of that doesn’t break any rules and doesn’t stoop to the bullies level. Like if a bully teases you, don’t tease them back, because you know how much it stinks to get teased, and you don’t want to do the same thing as them. Plus, you’re a good kid!
Basically, be yourself (in my case, that means being an outlaw)! And definitely talk to a parent or another adult who can help you. They have all kinds of good ideas that could help.