Dr. Tonya Chen Mezrich, a native of Natchitoches, presented a signed copy of her book “Charlie Numbers and the Woolly Mammoth” to 8th grade students at NSU Middle Laboratory School on March 15.
Dr. Tonya Mezrich is co-author of the wildly successful Charlie Numbers series. The newest book in the series: Charlie Numbers and the Woolly Mammoth recently hit bookstore shelves. Mezrich attended Tufts University where she studied French Literature, art history, and dentistry. After practicing as a dentist, she later became a jewelry designer, a fashion designer and produced and co hosted the TV Show Style Boston. She recently launched the popular half hour TV show on NESN called Boston’s Red Carpet with Tonya Mezrich featuring philanthropy and fashion as a follow up to her role as resident fashion expert at NBC Boston. She and her husband Ben also penned Charlie Numbers and the Man in the Moon (2017), which was chosen as the required summer reading for all 6th graders in Boston Public Schools. The Charlie Numbers books are slated to be developed into a movie series with Ellen Pompeo of Gray’s Anatomy. Tonya recently completed Charlie Numbers and the UFO which will be published in 2021. She and Ben live in Vermont with their two kids. You can follow her at @tonyamezrich.
Tonya’s book, Charlie Numbers and The Woolly Mammoth, is loosely written about her time spent as a student at NSU Middle Lab when she lived in Natchitoches. After presenting the signed copy of the book, she visited with 8th grade students and shared some of her experiences at Middle Lab. They asked questions about her career as well as the book.
Here’s what Tonya had to say:
I was born and raised in Natchitoches by Ron and Fu-mei Chen. All of my siblings (Sonya, Oliver and Patricia) and I attended and graduated from NSU Elementary Lab and NSU Middle Lab, naturally because my father was a professor of Political Science at NSU. I graduated with honors and was elected to the “Hall of Fame,” an award that a select few of the top 8th graders at the time were granted upon graduation. After middle lab I was one of two students that left Natchitoches. It was not a common thing at the time, but my parents wanted me to have more opportunities so they decided to have me go up north for high school. I went to a boarding school in Connecticut called Choate.
After high school, I stayed up north and studied and graduated from Tufts University in Boston, and subsequently the dental school Tufts University School of Dental Medicine where I got my DMD and became a practicing dentist. After exploring a few other careers like jewelry design and fashion design I decided to pursue a lifelong dream to become a writer. I was always drawn to writing in particular writing for youngsters. My husband had had such great success with his first non-fiction book Bringing Down The House, that it inspired us to come up with the idea of doing a children’s version of the book, something our young son could read before he would be able to read BDTH.
And instead of college kids trying to break Vegas, we dreamt up this fantastic team of super smart middle schoolers who used math and science to solve mysteries. For the creation of the school, it took a little digging back in time. I always had a fond memory of middle lab, and truthfully Ben didn’t have much of a recollection for things in the past, so he relied on me to create and set the scene. So naturally I used NSU Middle Lab as a basis for the fictional school in the book and coyly called it Nagassack Middle—having had remembered the southern lazy pronunciation of our town’s name: “Nag-a-dish.”
I really enjoyed meeting the students and visiting with them, learning about their experiences as students, since I was in their shoes years ago. It has been over 11 years since I’ve been to Natchitoches, so as you can imagine a lot has changed. However after visiting the school, nostalgia set in and I remembered very clearly as if it was yesterday my days spent with Mrs. Kendrick studying English and literature in the downstairs classroom with college students peering down at us from above in the observation windows, and in the little lab working on math problems with Mrs. McCain.
Although this time it was me upstairs peering down at the current middle schoolers from the glass windows above thinking how it was such an inspirational program and though we may not have realized it at the time, we were lucky to have it. I loved being toured by the principal Mrs. Caron Coleman who took me back to some of the places that I set scenes in such as the science lab, the cafeteria, the “candy room” and of course the library with the rotunda that is still there after so many years! Since I wrote the books only a few years ago, I had to recreate the scenes from memory. After seeing them today I think I did pretty well, and it helps that they are exactly the same as they were way back when! There are snippets of NSU Middle Lab in the book and I asked the students to write to me on social media if they find them when they get a chance to read Charlie Numbers and the Woolly Mammoth, or any of the Charlie Numbers books in the series. I did not have time to visit NSU E-Lab this trip, but I hope to be able to come back again soon and do a book talk or another visit with the students!