November 10, 2008 12:00 PM

When it comes to selling books, James Patterson knows a thing or two or … 150 million, which is roughly how many copies of his thrillers, romances and other works line the world’s shelves after a 15-year-plus reign as king of the bestseller list. Imagine his frustration a few years ago, then, when his young son Jack scoffed at the printed word. Patterson, 61, and wife Sue “had read to him every night—The Velveteen Rabbit, Goodnight Moon—hundreds of books,” he says. “Zero effect.” As Jack, 10, puts it, the problem was the product. “With lots of books for kids, their parents want them to read,” he says. “But it’s not something the kid wants to read.”

Who could spin that sort of yarn? As it turns out, none other than Patterson himself, whose bestselling Maximum Ride and Dangerous Days of Daniel X young-adult series have won him a new generation of fans. Now, Patterson has launched a Web site,, aimed at helping parents develop a kid-friendly library. The site suggests popular favorites like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and classics like Charlotte’s Web, despite the unpretentious author’s disavowal of the term. “Who determines what’s a classic?” says Patterson, lounging on a sofa in his 11,000-sq.-ft. waterfront home in Palm Beach, Fla. (He keeps a second residence in Westchester County, N.Y.) “When I was a kid they made me read Silas Marner. I still hate it.”

Former ad exec Patterson’s own terse page-turners haven’t always won critical praise, but if he’s not a literary darling, Patterson is a very, very rich man. Earning as much as $50 million a year, he’s a literary juggernaut with collaborators to fill in the details of outlines he provides—”I did one this morning before you came,” he tells a visitor—and he usually has a dozen manuscripts going at once.

He’ll keep up that pace even as he turns his energy to this new project. Of his success, he has no doubt. “I’ve had hundreds of parents come up to me and literally say, ‘You’ve got my kid reading, I’ve named a child after you,'” Patterson says. “That makes me say, ‘I’m gonna do this.'”

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