SHINE!: Interview With Author J.J. Grabenstein

Have you ever looked around and felt like everyone in your life shines brighter than you do? That your siblings are all super smart, your BFF’s vocal chops rival those of Ariana Grande, and your classmates have all found their thing, leaving you feeling less than confident in your own abilities?

Piper Milly can fully relate, and that’s what Shine! is all about. In this inspiring new novel from authors J.J. and Chris Grabenstein, Piper is the new kid at Chumley Prep, a fancy private school overflowing with talented kids. New school or not, we’ve all been there, making Shine! super relatable for its readers. Filled with humor, heart, and a mysterious competition, we know readers will absolutely adore this sparkling story about discovering who you are, who you want to be, and the thing that makes you shine bright!

SHINE!: Interview With Author J.J. Grabenstein

Everyone deserves to shine in this sparkling new book from the New York Times bestselling author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library , Chris Grabenstein, and coauthor J.J. Grabenstein–just right for fans of Word of Mouse and The Fourteenth Goldfish.

“Who do you want to be?” asks Mr. Van Deusen. “And not when you grow up. Right here, right now.”

Shine on! might be the catchphrase of twelve-year-old Piper’s hero–astronaut, astronomer, and television host Nellie Dumont Frisse–but Piper knows the truth: some people are born to shine, and she’s just not one of them. That fact has never been clearer than now, since her dad’s new job has landed them both at Chumley Prep, a posh private school where everyone seems to be the best at something and where Piper definitely doesn’t fit in.

Bursting with humor, heart, science, possibilities, and big questions, Shine! is a story about finding your place in the universe–a story about figuring out who you are and who you want to be.

AUTHORS: J.J. Grabenstein and Chris Grabenstein
PUBLISHER: Random House Books for Young Readers
DATE: November 5, 2019

We had the immense pleasure of chatting with author J.J. Grabenstein about bringing Piper Milly’s story to life and the empowering women she thinks Piper would admire in our not-so-fictional world!

Author J.J. Grabenstein on Shine!:

Tell us a little about Shine! and the inspiration behind the story.

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: When the book begins, our hero, Piper Milly, thinks some people are born to shine and others to “blend in.” She calls herself “a blender.” Soon, her music-teacher father’s new job lands them both at Chumley Prep, a posh private school where everyone seems to be the best at something and where Piper definitely feels she doesn’t fit in. In the end, Shine! is a story about finding your place in the universe – a story about figuring out who you are and who you want to be.

Being married to my author husband Chris Grabenstein and reading all of his wonderful books got me thinking about the books I read as a kid. Back then, I wish I’d read a fun story that said “Who you are is more important than what you accomplish.” So, I came up with an idea and shared it with Chris. He said, “Let’s write that book together.”

Which 3 words would you use to describe Piper Milly?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: Smart, kind, caring.

One of YAYOMG!’s underlying messages is encouraging girls to shine bright exactly as they are. How does Piper shine bright?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: Piper must be a YUGE fan of YAYOMG! She shines bright by being true to who she already is.

If you had to select one quote from Shine! to dazzle a potential reader to pick up your book, which one would you choose?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: Probably this one from her English teacher, Mr. Van Deusen:

“Who do you want to be?” asks Mr. Van Deusen. “And not when you grow up. Right here, right now.”

One of Piper’s heroes in the book is Nellie Dumont Frissé, an astronaut, astronomer, and television host. Which real-world women do you think Piper would look up to?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: Piper is an astronomy and science buff. She’d definitely look up to the amazing astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, the first to take part in an all-female spacewalk; teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg; and all the unsung female scientists and researchers, like the ones chronicled in Hidden Figures, who are doing great work, right now, that we never even hear about.

We love the unique competition at Chumley Prep, what can you share about the Excelsior Award and how that came to be?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but the Excelsior Award was 1) named after the motto on the New York State flag and 2) partially inspired by a reality TV show!

How are you hoping this story will resonate with young readers?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: First of all, it’s a fun story so I hope they’ll enjoy reading it. Secondly, I hope they’ll realize that everyone shines in their own way. I also hope they find their own merry band of “Hibbleflitts.”

SHINE!: Interview With Author J.J. Grabenstein
(Image Provided by J.J. Grabenstein)
Is there a particular book (or books) that were important to you as a kid?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: Much like Piper confides in Mr. Pugsley, the dog she walks for an elderly neighbor, I used to talk to my pets growing up and I loved reading about animals. Some of my favorites were The Silent Miaow by Paul Gallico, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle books.

Shine! is your first-ever book, written along with your husband (and best-selling author!), Chris Grabenstein. What was it like writing together? Do you think you’ll write more in the future?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: We really enjoyed working together but quickly discovered that we have totally different writing techniques. Chris is a typist – because he studied Communications in college and had to pass a typing test his freshman year before he could take any upper level courses. He also had to type all his homework assignments and newspaper columns. By the time he graduated, he could type over one hundred words a minute. In fact, he made his living as a typist when he first moved to New York City.

Meanwhile, I have been an actress and musical theater performer since I was in high school. I toured the country in shows and did a fun musical called Nunsense off-Broadway. So, I approached writing by becoming all the characters and acting out the scenes, right there in our writing room. Sometimes, my acting interrupted Chris’s typing, because I didn’t realize that he was seeing a whole scene in his head as it was coming out through his flying fingertips!

It made for a very interesting, fun, and sometimes funny collaboration. We may write another book in the future and I will always be Chris’s first editor, reading and reviewing everything he writes before anyone else.

What advice would Piper share with our readers who, like her, feel like they weren’t born to shine?

J.J. GRABENSTEIN: She’d probably tell them that they may not realize it but they are already shining in their own way. She’d also encourage them to find a group of like-minded friends and seek out the teachers and mentors who can see your light, even when you can’t see it yourself.

J.J. and Chris celebrated the release of Shine! yesterday with a Facebook Live event and a party at Books of Wonder in NYC, complete with star-shaped cookies and sparkling apple cider! They’ll also be doing virtual classroom and library visits throughout the Winter, so if you’d like them to chat with your class, be sure to tell your teachers to make a request!

Need more relatable middle school reads in your book stack? We think you’ll love Friend or Fiction by Abby Cooper!

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