At our neighborhood bookstore recently browsing with my son, I came across Gracefully Grayson and realized I went to high school and overnight camp with the author, Ami Polonsky. After diving into the book, inspired and impressed; I contacted Ami and am happy to share our interview with you.
When and how did you first get the idea for “Gracefully Grayson?”
“When my two children were very young, I noticed that my son wasn’t drawn exclusively to “boy toys” and my daughter wasn’t drawn exclusively to “girl toys.” I began to think a lot about the boxes that society tries to place boys and girls into and it made me really angry. I didn’t want the external world dictating my kids’ interests, preferences and desires. I felt like the pink aisles and blue aisles were limiting my children’s experiences as human beings—something that was in direct opposition to what I wanted for them; I wanted their worlds to be wide open. I thought about the challenges a child would face if they really and truly didn’t fit into the “pink box” or the “blue box.” It was a few years later that the idea for Grayson came to me but I know the seed was planted when I was feeling this frustration.”
Is the first YA book that features a transgender child? What has been the response from young adults? I can’t wait for my son to read it.
“Gracefully Grayson is the first middle grade novel featuring a transgender child. Young adult novels featuring transgender teens have existed for a while, but it wasn’t until recently that it became a mainstream understanding that gender identity is a separate entity from sexual orientation, and gender identity shapes children from a very young age. It has been so meaningful to me that the response has been overwhelmingly positive—from children, teens and adults, and it has been especially important that the transgender community has responded positively to Grayson’s story. It was crucial to me that I “get it right.”
I believe you got it right! The transgender topic is gaining more media coverage lately. How do you feel about Caitlyn Jenner’s transition and how it has been portrayed in the media?
“On one hand, any positive media attention to the transgender experience is a good thing. That said, many of Caitlyn’s comments actually reinforce the gender binary, alienate a significant portion of the transgender community, and misrepresent what it means to be gender non-conforming. I’m happy for her because she is finally living a life that is true to who she is, but she’s not a strong spokeswoman for the transgender community.”
For those of us that are writers with goals of someday publishing a book, what advice can you give?
“I’d advise anyone who wants to publish a book to persevere, to strike a balance between becoming familiar with the publishing world and ignoring the publishing world to focus on their work, to be open to consistent revision and to embrace the process and mess of writing!”
Tell us about your second book THREADS.
“THREADS, another middle grade novel, comes out November 1, 2016 from Disney-Hyperion. It’s based on an article I read about an African man who claimed he was wrongfully arrested in China and was placed in a Chinese prison factory without access to his family or a lawyer. He wrote notes explaining his situation and snuck them into the products he was forced to make. An Australian woman living in New York found one of his notes. I was blown away by the random ways in which all lives are connected.”
“THREADS is about a thirteen-year-old Chinese girl who is kidnapped and forced to work in a factory. She sneaks a note into a purse she is sewing and a twelve-year-old American girl finds it. The book is about the ways in which their lives become intertwined.”
That sounds fascinating, I am already looking forward to November to read it. How do you balance being a successful author and a mom?
“I don’t balance anything particularly well these days! I also am a sixth grade English teacher so, unfortunately, I don’t get as much writing time as I’d like. The upside to this is that I’m forced to think about the next book I’m working on a great deal before I’m able to write anything on paper. I’m hoping that, in the long run, this will strengthen the book.”
Do you do yoga?
“I don’t. Maybe I’d be better at balancing everything if I did! I do try to exercise several times a week, though. I find that I’m able to think through my next book with great clarity while I’m exercising. I actually got about 90% of my ideas for THREADS while on the elliptical!”
I believe any type of movement is helpful to us busy moms.
Thank you, Ami! I loved so much about Gracefully Grayson, especially all the Chicago references. I cannot wait to read THREADS.
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