So many of us have manuscripts in a “drawer”—waiting for a block to clear or a better ending or a new take. I love hearing about the rare occasions when the lightning strikes and the manuscript emerges from doom with a revelation that transforms it. Here Jeanette Bradley shares how a manuscript became more than she had originally imagined.
And…Jeanette is offering a GIVEAWAY! Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of SOMETHING GREAT.
Congratulations to Carrie Brown, winner of NO SNOWBALL! from Isabella Kung!
The Heart Can Surprise You by Jeanette Bradley
Sometimes the seed for a book comes from a completely different direction than the place that it ends up. The book dummy that became Something Great started out as a nonfiction exploration of simple physics concepts. I had worked on the project for a while, but it had never quite gelled, and I set it aside.
A few years later, I was teaching a maker art class for young kids. Most of the kids were excited about solving specific maker challenges, and had very defined, goal-oriented concepts they wanted to build to solve the challenge. But there was one child who spent the class experimenting with a few pieces of recycling and some string, discovering what adults would call the properties of simple machines. When I asked him to tell me about his creation, he said “It’s just… a thing. LOOK WHAT IT CAN DO!”
I loved this kid’s completely open-ended and unlabeled exploration of the world, and it sparked an idea for a different take on my physics manuscript. I rewrote it as fiction but the story still didn’t quite pull together. In particular, I could not decide the main character’s gender – even after I had a developed character design. Once again, I set it aside.
A year passed during which one of my kids came out as nonbinary, prompting me to think about gender in new ways. When I returned to the book dummy with new eyes, I realized the heart of the story was a main character who doesn’t see value in labels and resists answering the question “what’s it supposed to be?” I realized that I had been writing a story that was on one level about making and inventing and discovering in a mindset where process is more important than product, and on another level was an exploration of being agender. Once I started using they/them pronouns for Quinn, the story clicked together. Their character design remained the same, which now makes me laugh because Quinn’s look is clearly nonbinary but it took me so long to realize who they were.
One of the best things about there being more books for and about LGBTQ kids being published, is that we now get to have many stories. There are kids who need stories about surviving queer trauma, kids who are looking for Pronouns 101, and kids who don’t need either of those things because they have grown up in supportive queer or queer-friendly communities but still need positive “mirror” books. And all kids, regardless of identity, deserve joyful celebrations of everyday queer life. Books in which characters are allowed to be who they are without oppression, and even find happiness and understanding are important as both mirror and window books.
My wish for Something Great, as it makes its way into the world, is that readers who have felt misunderstood or out of synch with the world will take away a sense of hope that there are people out there who will “get” them. They aren’t alone, and it does get better.
A note for teachers or parents about they/them pronouns:
Sometimes people feel awkward using they/them pronouns or are scared of doing it wrong. But, remember that we already use the singular they to refer to people whose gender is unknown! For example, we might say “We have a new coworker. They start on Monday.” Practicing using gender neutral pronouns will reduce your stress about it.
Simple things that we can do to be gender-inclusive in classrooms or other groups are creating group norms of introducing ourselves with our pronouns, and including pronouns on nametags and screens in online meetings. We can use nongendered words to address a group – “students” or “friends” instead of “boys and girls.” And we can avoid splitting up groups or assigning tasks by gender.
It is also important to be aware that child who is using they/them pronouns is publicly disclosing their queerness and may be targeted for microaggressions or bullying. The Trevor Project has put together an excellent Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth with more resources.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing for SOMETHING GREAT. (continental US addresses, please. Winner announced 11/4/22)
And…when you enjoy a book, please take a moment to support authors and illustrators by leaving a review with online booksellers.