By Taylor Nicioli
“Impractical Jokers” star James Murray joined Ogden Elementary School students March 15 to kick off his Long Island book tour and debut his new middle-grade book series, “Area 51 Interns,” which had come out that day.
Murray attended with co-author Carsen Smith and was met with overwhelming excitement by the children. As third-graders lined up in front of Ogden Elementary, holding up drawings that they had made of book characters, alien balloons and cutouts of Murray’s face, the two writers said they were in awe.
“It’s not very often I see James get star struck,” Smith said. “It was so surreal to see our book that we had imagined just come to life for these kids.”
Murray had written several books before, including horror, thriller and other science-fiction novels, and with the “Impractical Jokers” fanbase including many children, he said he thought it was only natural to write a book for them, too. “I said, you know what, let me write one for children that is really, really funny, and they’ll like, but still had a sci-fi twist,” Murray said.
Smith and Murray have several years of history, as Smith has been his head of development, and they pitched many television shows and movies together. She had been with him on his other book launches, and along the way they had decided to write a children’s book together.
The book was inspired by the friendships that Murray has had with his co-stars on “Impractical Jokers” and how they met in high school. Both authors said they hoped children would take away the book’s central message on the importance of friendship.
The book takes place during the characters’ summer between eighth and ninth grades. “I remember that summer distinctly, where a lot of my closest friends from grammar school went off to different schools. That can be a stressful summer for kids,” Murray said. “That’s where our best friends [in the book] find themselves, and they realize their friendship will be forever.”
The Ogden students listened intently as Smith and Murray answered many questions on the book, as well as brought their comedic abilities to make the children laugh. Murray told them a few of his “Impractical Jokers” stories and about what it takes to become Area 51 interns.
“Me and my friends were all going nuts for this,” fourth-grader Abby Frazer-Baez said.
Ogden Principal Dina Anzalone said she was delighted that her school was first on Murray’s Long Island book tour, which included three other schools in the Hewlett-Woodmere District. “We have been in a fog since Covid began,” Anzalone said. “We need things to look forward to, and I knew this would be the right author and the right book.”
The principal and many staff members and students said they enjoyed the book, and they were grateful that Murray came to speak on it. Different classes decorated the elementary school ahead of his arrival to make the kickoff of the book tour a success.
“It’s not easy to move a celebrity, and he was very touched by these little guys,” Anzalone said.
Murray is set to return in the fall for the second installment of the book series.