It Doesn’t Take a Genius
Author: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Published April 13th, 2021 by Six Foot Press
Summary: Emmett and his older brother Luke have always been “Batman and Robin,” though they’re quick to bicker about who’s who. Spending the summer at a historic Black summer camp seems like a wonderful adventure for the two to share, but since Luke is there as a junior counselor, he seems to spend all of his time being everyone else’s big brother, and ignoring Emmett.
As Luke seems to be moving on to new adventures, Emmett struggles in unexpected ways, especially in swim class and the “It Takes A Village” entrepreneurship class. Without his brother to turn to for support, Emmett works to build a new crew of “superfriends,” who’ll help him plan something spectacular for the end-of-camp awards night and celebration. Along the way, Emmett learns that no matter what, there can be many ways to define family.
It Doesn’t Take a Genius is the middle grade follow-up novel to Six Foot Pictures’ 2019 film Boy Genius starring Miles Brown (Black-ish), in his breakout role, Rita Wilson, and Nora Dunn. Rhuday-Perkovich was guided by conversations with the actors and screenwriter of Boy Genius as she picked up the thread of Emmett’s story at the end of the film, though it’s not necessary to see the movie to enjoy this continuation. In this coming-of-age tale, Emmett is used to being the smartest in the room but must reexamine how he defines himself when he’s suddenly one of many creative and brilliant peers at camp. Highlighting famous pillars of Black history and pop culture, past and present, Rhuday-Perkovich celebrates Black excellence and joy as Emmett comes into his own.
About the Author: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is the author of 8th Grade Superzero, which was named a Notable Book for a Global Society, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, an adaptation for Sesame Workshop’s Ghostwriter, and Operation Sisterhood. She is the coauthor of NAACP Image Award nominee Two Naomis, a Junior Library Guild selection, and its sequel, Naomis Too. She also writes nonfiction, including Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins, and Saving Earth: Climate Change and the Fight for Our Future.
Olugbemisola is a member of the Brown Bookshelf, editor of the We Need Diverse Books anthology The Hero Next Door, and teaches at the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing. She holds an MA in education, and has written frequently on parenting and literacy-related topics for PBS Parents, Brightly, American Baby, Healthy Kids, and other outlets. Visit her online at olugbemisolabooks.com and on Instagram: @olugbemisolarhudayperkovich.
Review: I love a good summer camp book, and It Doesn’t Take a Genius has the total camp vibe but to a different level as Emmett is immersed in Black excellence and culture at Camp DuBois. Camp DuBois, though quite fancy, intense, and education-packed, still gives off great summer camp vibes as it is filled with many of the same struggles any camp book is filled with: being away from home, being with new people, and figuring out a different culture.
Emmett’s journey of standing on his own two feet separate from his brother was so important. It showed that finding your own passions, friends, and goals is essential in your identity. The characterization of Emmett, and all of the secondary characters, is what truly raises this book to a different level. I love his mom, his brother, his friends, his crush, his teachers, and even his nemesis. They all, even though secondary, have pretty detailed character development, and you finish the book feeling like you have a bunch of new friends.
Please know, when I started It Doesn’t Take a Genius, I had not seen Boy Genius, and it doesn’t matter. Rhuday-Perkovich did a fantastic job bringing the characters to life both as an extension of the film but also as a standalone away from the film. When I was done, I did jump on Hoopla and watched it–then it take the experience to a different level. It was like reading a prequel!
As soon as I was done with the book and the movie, I had so many questions, and I was so excited that Olugbemisola was open to answering some of them:
Q&A with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich:
- Q: How did this come about?! I love the idea of a book continuing the story of a movie!
- A: Six Foot was familiar with my debut novel, 8th Grade Superzero, and approached my agent about writing a companion to the film, and I love a challenge, so I was intrigued right away! The idea of engaging with a story across different media really appealed to me, and when I watched the film, Miles Brown and Skylan Brooks really drew my heart to the characters – I wanted to know more!
- Q: How much freedom did you have in character?
- A: Six Foot gave me a lot freedom! Basically, I just had to make sure the story included Emmett. I really appreciated the opportunity to get grounded in the characters and that particular story, and then take flight from there.
- Q: For example, I noticed mom is a bit tougher in your book and E loves to dance.
- A: That’s so funny, I don’t think of mom as tough at all in IT DOESN’T TAKE A GENIUS! In fact, I think I would have been furious with Emmett’s Camp DuBois scheme. I think she’s a very engaged single mom with big hopes and dreams for her children, and for herself. E’s love of dance is really because of Miles Brown. I focused on Emmett and Luke in the book because Miles’ and Skylan Brooks’ performances in the film were so vibrant and nuanced – they really inhabited their characters beautifully. I know that Miles is a dancer and thought that it would be nice to incorporate that part of his real life in this character’s.
- Q: Any reason why you chose to not have Mary in the book and why you do not acknowledge that Mac got arrested?
- A: Mary didn’t fit into the book’s setting (an all-Black camp, away from home). The same for Mac; and though he was a very big part of the film, outside of referencing their antagonistic, competitive relationship, I didn’t think he figured too much in a story that took place after the events of the film. Emmett has a new nemesis in IT DOESN’T TAKE A GENIUS: Derek. But this time, he has to figure out how to deal with him without Luke’s help!
- Q: How did you go about meeting the goal of being an extension of the movie but it also being a stand alone book?
- A: Because Six Foot gave me so much freedom, I really just tried to let what I learned from the film about the characters inform the book. I really loved Emmett and Luke, and wanted to give them a space where they could be, to paraphrase Langston Hughes (and Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop). “free within themselves,” to be Black without apology, to be joyful in all of the different ways that children and teens can be, to be allowed to have the full emotional lives that often Black characters don’t get to have in widely available stories. Miles’ and Skylan’s performances, Bridget Stokes’ wonderful directing, the cinematography of Meena Singh, the animation, the colors, fantasy sequences – all of the elements of the film helped deepen my own understanding of the characters, and sort of imagine them into a new story, with (I hope) their core selves intact. I really hope that it offers another dimension of these characters’ lives, and not work in opposition to the film! I had a lot of fun with these characters, and giving E these new friends like Michelle, Natasha, and Charles helped me help him become more of himself.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Black to the Future, a camp course within the book, could be taken straight from the pages and moved into classrooms. The discussions within that class in the novel are important, poignant, and ones that we should be having with students.
For example, the very first class in the book, Charisse, the teacher asks: “‘Nina Simone spoke about the artist’s responsibility being to ‘reflect the times.’ ‘An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptures, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I CHOOSE to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved.’ Let’s start there. What do you think that means?'” Then the kids got in small groups to discuss, and it was pretty brilliant. And this is just ONE example!
Additionally, the book is filled with Black cultural icons from activists to dancers to movie makers to scientists and everyone in between. It Doesn’t Take a Genius, as a read aloud, would be a phenomenal way to introduce our students to more Black culture and history.
- What would your mom have done if you did what Emmett did?
- How does Emmett’s realization about his mother’s brilliance change his point of view on himself and his mom?
- How does Emmett’s father’s mental illness affect Emmett even though he has passed away?
- How does learning about Black culture and history help Emmett understand himself and his future?
- How is Emmett’s swimming test and extended metaphor for his whole time at Camp Dubois?
- How does Luke’s relationship with Derek alter his relationship with Emmett? How could Emmett had dealt with it better? How could Luke have?
- Which of the courses that Emmett took at camp would you want to take and why?
- Emmett loves working with his friends and helping them, but how did this end up spreading him too thin and causing him to lose his own passions?
- How does Camp DuBois help with Emmett’s views of himself, both positively and negatively?
- Who is someone new you learned about in the book that you would like to know more about?
Flagged Passages: “Chapter 5: The house meeting in the lounge is short and all about the rules. Most of the kids from this dorm are musicians, but I hear a couple of kids talking about Street Style, so there are dancers too. Marcus wasn’t kidding–I meet a girl from Jamaica who introduces herself as ‘Clarinet, first chair, all-state’ as if I know what that means; then another from Jamaica, Queens, who says she’s a a ‘social media influencer’ and offers to sell me some likes; a boy from Chicago who says he can hook us up with the best popcorn ever; and a Nigerian kid everyone calls Prince who plays guitar. I try to throw debate champion into conversation to just keep up, but around here, that’s as special as saying grocery list.”
Read This If You Love: 8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert, New Kid by Jerry Craft, I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, Camp Rolling Hills series by Stacy Davidowitz
**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters for providing a copy for review and for Olugbemisola for doing a Q&A with me!**