Dan Cuoco wants you to know it's okay to "geek out." In fact, he believes it's the key to success.
Says the 25-year-old 4th-grade teacher and Madison native, "Everybody should have a passion, whether that's something that's academic, or it's sports or music-something that they care about that they should pursue."
Last week the Denver, Colorado, transplant returned to his hometown to encourage young students to do just that. In presentations in Madison, Clinton, Deep River, and New Haven schools, Cuoco focused on showing kids that science can be fun. It's a mission Cuoco's also working toward in his middle-grade Braderwood Series; the eventual trilogy now includes Stanley Finnigan and the Race Around the Universe and Bryan Jefferson and the Neuroverse.
Cuoco says the series began as a relaxation technique.
"Originally, I started writing it as a way to wind the day down," he says. "I thought maybe when it's done I'd share it with some friends and family."
But the process wasn't easy: Even though he'd always enjoyed creative writing, Cuoco hadn't done any since middle school.
"I got a chapter in and got writers' block and gave up," admits Cuoco, who started Stanley Finnigan in college.
A few years later, newly inspired, Cuoco returned to the project. By then he was teaching in Baltimore, Maryland, and he had met many of the people who would form the basis for Braderwood's characters.
"The first plot came to me as I was driving to Madison to visit from Baltimore," Cuoco remembers. "The entire plot just popped into my head as I was driving. I frantically scribbled down all the ideas I could come up with on whatever I had at hand-I think it was a napkin."
Cuoco says he initially had "no agenda" in making his series a work of science fiction. But, he now sees the value of that decision.
While discussing the Braderwood series in Madison and other schools, he's found that the kids respond to the books because they reflect a passion for both science and writing-the two subjects Cuoco calls "the most difficult" to teach.
"I had to do a lot of research for the first book because I didn't know a ton about space...I really just wanted it to be fun and goofy, but now I have this passion for theoretical physics."
Cuoco hopes his newfound enthusiasm for more "serious" science will be contagious.
"Really, I just hope that if kids are interested in science, they go ahead and research it like I did."
Theoretical physics aside, there are more "down-to-earth" themes in the Braderwood series, too. The trilogy's three main characters-Betsy, based on a friend of Cuoco's; Bryan, based on Cuoco's college roommate; and Richey, based both on Cuoco and one of the youngsters he encountered while student teaching-tackle issues like peer pressure and bullying. In the series' first book, Stanley Finnigan, Betsy, Bryan, and Richey are 7th graders; by the end of the series, they will be sophomores in high school. Each book in the series is narrated by a different member of the trio.
Cuoco says he's learned how to write quality middle-grade fiction from studying some of the genre's greats. Favorites from his youth include Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Orson Scott Card's Ender series, and Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. More recently, Cuoco cites J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books with helping him to "weave multiple plot lines."
Cuoco says he likes to remind his students that, although it's hard to believe now, there wasn't always a glut of good middle-grade fiction available to discerning readers. And even with all those choices, when classroom storytime rolls around, Cuoco's students' preference is clear.
"They know that I wrote the [Braderwood] books, so they always ask me to read them aloud to them...I think indirectly it gets my kids into writing because they see that their teacher is into it."
The first two books in Dan Cuoco's Braderwood series, Slanley Finnigan and the Race Around the Universe and Bryan Jefferson and the Neuroverse, are available on Amazon.com in paperbook format; Stanley Finnigan is also available for Kindle download. For more information about Cuoco, visit Dancuoco.blogspot.com or