Cover Reveal & Interview: The Amelia Six by Kristin Gray
Nothing like a good old-fashioned cover reveal to round out your week. And today’s is particularly nice since I have an interview to accompany it as well. For some of you the name “Kristin Gray” might ring a bell. Perhaps you read her, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book, or maybe it was the picture book Koala Is Not A Bear. Well, it turns out she has a new book coming out with Paula Wiseman Books in 2020 and she was kind enough to offer me the reveal of The Amelia Six. And here’s something to put a little extra kick in your step. The cover artist is none other than Celia Krampien, who brought us The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.
But before we get to all that, let’s talk a bit to Kristin herself about the book, speedcubing, Amelia Earhart’s work with Syrian immigrants, and the difficulty level of writing middle grade mysteries (of which we never have enough).
Betsy Bird: When you initially wrote me about possibly doing the cover reveal of your book you off-handedly mentioned that its origins came when, “one of my boys began his brief career in competing nationally in speedcubing (solving Rubik’s cubes), and my family revisited Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, so all of these ideas merged to make THE AMELIA SIX, out next summer with Paula Wiseman Books.” I think I need to know more about this. First off, your son began speedcubing in competitions? Tell me more!
Kristin Gray: Hi, yes! Some families travel for baseball; we traveled for Rubik’s cubes. With the advent of You Can Do the Cube and Makerspaces, more schools and libraries are doing Rubik’s cube-related STEM activities. My son and his friends started the cubing club at his middle school. He’s a junior in high school now, but he did compete locally, regionally, and once at nationals. It’s an amazing experience! The puzzles come in all shapes, sizes, and assortments now, and you choose which category to compete in. Some contenders solve them one-handed, with their feet, or even blindfolded. My son’s best (unofficial) time on the classic 3×3 was 5-point-something seconds. Wild! Trained volunteers scramble the cubes, time the solves, and oversee the competition tables. BUT the thing that struck me most, was there could be eighty or more boys competing at an event and only one girl. I wanted to write a book for her.
While THE AMELIA SIX is not about a cubing competition per se, Millie, the main character, is an accomplished speedcuber who uses her rad solving skills to battle her anxiety. Much like people who utilize fidget toys and stress balls.
BB: Next up, Amelia Earhart’s birthplace. You know, when we were kids and nonfiction for children was at an all-time low, one of the few women you could get a bio of was Earhart. She’s sort of fascinating since her disappearance is still a mystery. Not many public figures in the 20th century can say as much (except for Jimmy Hoffa and I’ve yet to see a middle grade novel involving HIM in any way). What’s at Earhart’s birthplace?
KG: Amelia was born at her grandparents’ home in Atchison, Kansas, and spent more happy days there on the bluff than anywhere else as a child. Her Grandfather Otis was a judge and banker, and her grandparents helped raise her and her sister.
The Otis home, or Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, is now owned by the Ninety-Nines, Inc. International Organization of Women Pilots, of which Amelia was the first president.
A collection of Earhart memorabilia is on display with items and furniture donated by her sister, husband (publisher GP Putnam), and aviation enthusiasts from around the globe. There are flight plans, original newspaper articles, and more personal items like luggage (designed by Earhart herself) and leather flight caps to see. You can also tour her childhood bedroom, and if you’re like me, sneak a peek inside her closet. Shh!
BB: What is it about Earhart that you yourself find most interesting? Were you a fan when you were a kid?
KG: My admiration for Amelia grew the deeper I dug. She wasn’t the most skilled pilot of her time, but she possibly had the most guts.
She was a truck driver, a photographer, stenographer, nurse then a social worker in Boston all before her first transatlantic flight (made as a passenger). She worked with Asian and Syrian immigrant children, also coaching them in basketball and one other sport, which is mentioned in my book. They adored her, and she kept in touch with them after she was famous.
I was a fan, but more so of Helen Keller. (I was born deaf in one ear.) THEN my family took a trip to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in DC the summer after third grade, and everything changed. I developed a new admiration.
BB: I like that your book appears to have a mystery element to it. The description you sent me reads, “Eleven-year-old Millie and five other girls, snowed in at Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas, are on a scavenger hunt when the lights go out and Amelia’s aviator goggles go missing.” Mysteries, however, are reputably hard to write. Did you have difficulty with yours?
KG: Oh goodness. Research is my jam, but this book! This book was so hard, I hid from it. Many days I would open my messy document, grow so overwhelmed, I had to walk away. Given the historical setting and biographical elements, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything just right. But I also wanted to include every interesting nugget I found and the kitchen sink. It felt very much like staring down thirty-one flavors of ice cream. How do I choose? How do I decide what to include and what to leave out? My editor graciously reiterated simple is best.
I devoured mysteries as a child. But my passion for the likes of Nancy Drew, CLUE, and The Westing Game only made this story feel weightier. The whole write-what-you-love advice proved scary as heck. What if I fail? Kids are savvy, smart readers. If there’s a plot hole, they’ll find it. But I reached a point where I realized there is no perfect book. Most great writers would go back to change or tweak something if given the chance. Every manuscript is a learning opportunity, and I aim to keep growing and stretching myself while improving my craft.
BB: I don’t usually ask this of the authors when I interview them during cover reveals, but since yours is by Celia Krampien who did THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF COYOTE SUNRISE, what do you think of it? From an authorial perspective, what are some of the details that Celia got right?
KG: I was elated to hear that Celia signed on. Her art blew me away. She really captured the cozy spirit of the book and nailed the girls’ descriptions: from Thea’s goggles and scarf to Nathalie’s braid to Wren’s moon boots. And of course, the main attraction, Amelia Earhart’s goggles are drawn with historical accuracy, as is her plane, the red Vega. Celia studied close-up photographs to make all the details right. Brava! I’m one lucky author.
BB: And finally, what are you working on next?
KG: I’m plotting my next novel and looking forward to the 2020 launch of my picture book with Scott Magoon called ROVER THROWS A PARTY: Inspired by NASA’s Curiosity on Mars! It will be out-of-this-world!
Thanks a million for having me, Betsy.
BB: Well, thanks for being here!
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for . . .
Many thanks to Kristin for answering my questions and the folks at Simon & Schuster for the reveal.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network