Alex Hart-Upendo is no ordinary fourth grader. At just 10 years old, he’s a CEO, fashion designer, philanthropist, and author. His first book, about a boy who overcomes bullying with the help of some super snazzy bow ties, has helped Alex turn his creativity and entrepreneurial spirit into a movement that’s inspiring children around the world. We caught up with him to find out more about the story behind Bullies, Bowties, and Brilliant Alex.
Tell us a little bit about why you made your book!
I started getting national attention from my company and from my charity. Kids all over the world started messaging me, asking how I got started, and they started telling me about their bullying situations. I figured if I wrote a book my story could travel all around the world and I could bring awareness to bullying and youth entrepreneurship at the same time. My baby brother is 3 years old, and I wanted him to learn about not being a bully. I wanted to bring awareness to bullying and empower kids to be themselves.
Who do you want to read your book and what do you want them to take away from it?
I’m 10 years old, but to be honest I didn’t write my book for my age group. I wrote it for younger readers. I felt like if I could reach them earlier, before grade school, maybe they could actually absorb the lesson I’m trying to teach and apply it. By the time you’re my age bullying can get really bad. I’m trying to prevent that with my story. I also chose to make all the children different nationalities because I want everyone represented and not too often do you see kids that look like me as main characters in children’s books.
What was creating your book like for you? What did you enjoy? What did you learn?
Creating the book was stressful—I honestly thought writing a book would be easy, but I was wrong. I wanted kids to really like my book; I wanted everything to be perfect. It took me a whole year to get my book finished. I wanted to do it on my own, without any help from my parents. I sold all my electronics and DVDs to save enough money to hire an illustrator. That’s what really made my words come to life, but that part takes a long time. I learned that great things aren’t built overnight and that I needed to have patience if I wanted things done right.
Which tool did you use?
I used BookWright because it was free and easy to understand. It was step-by-step, and I loved it!
What was it like to see your finished book for the first time?
My parents actually tricked me, so seeing my book for the first time was really emotional for everyone. I didn’t have a television or any electronics because I had sold them to get my book done. My mom called me upstairs and surprised me with all the things I thought I had sold on eBay 6 months before. She said that they created fake eBay accounts to purchase my electronics, so I could get the money for the illustrator. She had me open a box and I almost fainted when I realized it was my book. I couldn’t believe it, I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life.
You’ve got a brilliant business going with your bow ties! How has your book helped you develop your business?
I incorporated my book into my business by creating a matching bow tie and hair bow to the main character in the book. I offer book packages where you can get a book and a bow to match. Kids want to be like Alex in my story, which is weird because Alex is me. I also make cool 3D-bow bookmarks. A few months ago, Ellen’s team called me and I sent a book package to her, they said she loved it. Steve Harvey also read my book and has a copy for his grandkids I would have never imagined celebrities reading my book. Harry Connick Jr. has it too—he even flew me to meet him in New York! My book has helped with my charity too because I offer author reading parties every other month to deserving children and classes. I give free, signed copies of my books to each kid and we have bow tie cookies and milk. I read my story and then we discuss bullying and how we can all make a difference.
Do you have any plans for another book? What else would you like to make a book about?
I have been working on comics lately, I love creating characters and short stories. I would love to write books like the Diary of a Wimpy kid series, those books are the best. Maybe I could be like Jeff Kenney that would be awesome sauce—he’s my favorite author. I was also thinking about writing a book about my invention, most people don’t know I’m also an inventor. I invented the first interchangeable penny loafer shoe design with a patent in the United States called Build-A-Shoe. I’d like to inspire other kids to invent things, I think that would be really cool If I compiled a book of all kid inventions.
Thanks, Alex for sharing your story with us. We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!