ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Ami Polonsky, author of Gracefully Grayson

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Mike Grosso at the blog wheel today, thrilled to be interviewing Ami Polonsky, author of the wonderful 2014 debut GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, a book that will speak to any middle grade reader with a secret that threatens to crush their soul.

Here’s the specifics on GRACEFULLY GRAYSON:

gracefullygrayson

What if who you are on the outside doesn’t match who you are on the inside?

Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

GRACEFULLY GRAYSON is available today at Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-MillionAmazon | Powells | Book Depository

MG: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview! GRACEFULLY GRAYSON is a particularly brave angle for a middle grade book. I imagine it would require a special agent/editor. Did it have any trouble finding a home?

AMI: Thank you, Mike. And thanks so much for interviewing me! Gracefully Grayson actually found a home fairly easily. I attribute this good fortune to a) the fact that times are finally changing and the world seems ready for a middle school-aged, transgender protagonist and b) the fact that my agent and editors recognized this. I queried my agent, Wendy Schmalz, in August of 2012 and by early October, we had a book deal. Of course, this was fabulous for me on a personal level, but on a larger scale I think it’s a clear sign that transgender children are finally starting to get the positive attention that they deserve. So yes, Gracefully Grayson does have a very special agent, and it also has two very special editors—Lisa Yoskowitz and Stephanie Lurie at Disney-Hyperion. I am forever indebted to all three of them for standing behind me and my book.

MG: There are many readers out there who will identify – both openly and secretly – with Grayson. What is the most important message you’d like them to hear?

AMI: I think that the middle school and high school years can be really difficult times to remain true to who you are. I was a total conformist during those years and I really regret that. I think our world would be a better place if we all had the courage to let our unique qualities shine. My message to others would be to get to know who you are, love who you are, and let others see the real you.

MG: On the other side of that coin, some readers may have trouble accepting someone like Grayson.  The book has many great examples of characters that either bully or are afraid to speak up against those who bully. What message are you hoping they will get from the book?

AMI: While this may sound simplistic, I’m really hoping that people who read Gracefully Grayson will come to like Grayson. I want them to view her as someone they’d want to get to know further. I think that we often stay away from people who we view as very different from us because we’re afraid of differences. I tend to focus on similarities between people rather than differences. There are so many common threads between all of our experiences as human beings, and we can find a common ground with almost anybody. I hope that people who might be inclined to bully or shun a transgender person will get to know Grayson well enough to recognize that her struggles are universal struggles—she wants to be true to herself, and she wants her community to know her for who she really is.

MG: I really loved the way GRACEFULLY GRAYSON confronts gender and sexual orientation as two separate things. Other than the taunts of a few bullies, Grayson’s sexuality is kept largely ambiguous while his gender identity is quite clear. How would you respond to a reader who is curious about Grayson’s sexual orientation?

AMI: That’s an interesting question, and I’m usually reluctant to answer the unanswered questions in Gracefully Grayson. Now that I’ve sent the book out into the world, I really feel that it’s not mine anymore. But…I’ll answer just this one unanswered question! I’ve always viewed Grayson as a straight female. 

MG: As a fellow educator, I was intrigued by your background as a former language arts teacher and literacy coach. How did your teaching experience help form Grayson’s story?

AMI: It helped form it in so many ways! I never would have become an author if I weren’t a teacher first. During the six years that I taught, I never once dreamed of becoming an author. It literally never crossed my mind. But during those years I read so many middle grade novels, and I read each one so many times. First off, I was completely blown away by how good the books were. I love coming of age stories in general, and middle grade books of all genres almost always contain a coming of age component. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those six years of reading and discussing middle grade novels with my students had imprinted a map of the middle grade novel in my mind. Five years after leaving the classroom, I sat down to write Gracefully Grayson. I was able to activate this map and it led me through the writing process.

MG: I have to mention the excellent blurb from James Howe (author of BUNNICULA, and, more recently, THE MISFITS). How did that come about?

AMI: I was blown away by that blurb. It literally left me speechless. I didn’t know James was reading Gracefully Grayson until I got a call from one of my editors, Lisa Yoskowitz. She read the blurb to me over the phone. Hyperion had contacted him, unbeknownst to me, so it was an utter surprise. I have a vivid memory of sitting with my little brother on his bed—I was probably ten—and reading Bunnicula to him. My brother was, at that time, what you might call a “reluctant reader,” but he was completely entranced by the vampire bunny. James Howe was such a fixture during my childhood, and the fact that he blurbed my book is just incredible. I hope to meet him in person someday and give him a big hug.

MG: And because this community is fearless, what’s something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of?

AMI: Oh, how I would love to be fearless! Okay—I’m petrified of sharks for absolutely no good reason. I’m not afraid of anything that lives in or near a lake, though—bugs, slugs, leeches—I can handle them all. On a larger scale, I’m terrified of dying, kidnappers, cancer, heart disease, dogs getting lost, car accidents, fires…(how many pages can I use?!) but I’m not afraid to stand up for myself or the people I love.

MG: Thanks again for agreeing to this interview, and for sharing Grayson’s story with the world. I can’t wait to see what you write next!

 authorphotoAmi Polonsky (www.amipolonsky.com) is a reading and writing tutor, mother to two young children, and author, among other things. A former Language Arts teacher and literacy coach, Ami remains passionate about guiding children towards a love of books and helping create lifetime readers. Ami lives outside of Chicago with her family. This is her first novel.

Visit Ami Polonsky’s website at http://amipolonsky.com.

Mike GrossoMike Grosso writes, teaches, parents, and plays a variety of instruments at all hours of the day for all possible reasons in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives with his wife and two-year-old son. He loves coffee, teaching, writing, reading, and making lots of noise with whatever objects he can find nearby. His debut contemporary middle grade novel, I AM DRUMS, will be released by Egmont USA in September 2015. Until then, you can follow his journey to publication at mikegrossoauthor.com or by following him on Twitter.
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