Pukey for President?
Gbemi, in a nutshell, what’s your novel about?
After the worst first day of school ever, Reggie "Pukey" McKnight wants to get through the school year out of the spotlight and on the sidelines. He wants to turn his image around, but he has other things on his mind as well: his father is out of a job; life with his best friends is getting complicated by race and romance; and his nemesis Donovan is out for blood.
The elections for school president are coming up, but Reggie wouldn't stand a chance, if he even had the courage to run. Then he gets involved with a local homeless shelter, and begins to think about making a difference, in his world and beyond. And when a pair of "Dora the Explorer" sneakers seem to have powers of transformation, Reggie begins to wonder: Pukey for President? It can happen...if he starts believing.
Here's something you wrote about Reggie:
“Reggie leaves his superhero fantasies behind and values the little heroic acts of daily life; he learns that sometimes winning big means living small.”
How do you think this might be important for young people today?
So much of what we do and say these days is for public consumption; private character can seem devalued. Who we are when no one's around matters. How we are when it seems like it doesn't matter is important. I don't think we always have to 'go big or go home'. It's always important to speak up, and to stand up, to do the right thing; I feel very strongly that we also need to make listening to one another a priority, and remember that the small things that we do and say are precious.
Did you always want to write for young people?
Yes! I want to write for everyone. :) I used to write and illustrate stories for my younger sister, and carried notebooks and pens everywhere. I also used to jot down memorable quotes or notes from books that I loved -- I remember giggling and enthusiastically jotting down tons of lines from The House At Pooh Corner and the Paddington books -- those were some hilarious bears.
My mother also read aloud to us for a long time, not just in the early childhood years, and I so wanted to create the kind of gift I'd felt I'd gotten from her nightly reads.
Were you a “superzero” in school?
Hmmm...you've just reminded me of the time I dressed up as "SuperGbemi" for Halloween in high school.
I'd always been raised to be an activist,
so there was a lot of marching and letter-writing
and campaigning going on in my life.
I was a junior and senior high school politician...I was quiet in class, but I was involved in theatre and a million other activities. I even tried out for cheerleading and joined the squad for one day just to show that I *could* do it if I wanted to (knowing full well that my parents would never have allowed it).
You came up with a pen name. Why?
I was asked to consider it because of the length of my real name. I spent a long time on this, because my name means a lot to me, and has had a lot to do with who I am; all names and naming are important to me. In the end, I decided to go with something that included 'all' of me -- my Nigerian heritage (my first name, my Dad is from Nigeria), my Jamaican side (my mom's middle name -- she was from Jamaica), and my married name.
Have you got any fan mail yet?
I have! It's so cool! I've gotten a few of emails from middle and high schoolers who read ARCs and they were so sweet. I cried. Kind of a lot. It's been especially wonderful because these readers are very different, yet each wrote that they connected with the characters and their stories in powerful ways.
~One of the best things about writing for children and young adults
is that they are some of the best readers around. They're not afraid to get really
engaged with a book, to ask questions, to challenge assumptions. They pay attention.~
How long did it take to write 8TH GRADE SUPERZERO?
Ahem. This novel took forever. I wrote the first three pages (now no longer in the book -- I miss them so!) in 2002 as part of an application for a workshop with Paula Danziger. She became a wonderful friend and mentor and really encouraged me to continue it. I dragged my feet (hands), but...finally! It's my first novel ever.
What went into the cover art? Did you have a say in the process?
I did not, though I did get a sneak preview and immediately fell in love with the colour scheme. My editor, Cheryl Klein, discusses the cover decision-making process in a fascinating post over here, in the comments section.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on a YA tentatively titled "YOU'RE BREAKING MY HEART" about a girl who wishes her brother dead...and then he dies. I'm also working on a nonfiction project with an international flavour called GLOBAL GIRLS, and a book about Ruthie, who is one of the characters in SUPERZERO. She travels 'home' to Jamaica and grapples with questions of authenticity, identity, justice, and true love.
Aside from being an author, you make things. What are you most proud of making?
What am I most proud of? Anything that I've actually finished, heh! I love making things, and I've learned to enjoy the *process* of'crafting' just as much as a finished product. I think that one of my proudest moments came when I finished this sweater because I was working from a pattern in Dutch, which is not my first, second, or tenth language.
Knitting and stitchery help me to revise, to think through stories or writing issues.
I believe that the work with my hands stimulates the creative work of my brain.
Finally, dessert! Do you have a recipe to share?
Do I?!?! For truly next-level chocolate brownies:
Take a one-bowl brownie mix like this one, and add some espresso powder, cinnamon, a teensy pinch of 'Chinese' five spice or freshly ground nutmeg, and semi-sweet chocolate chips.
~Play with your food, people, seriously. A little 'extra', a tiny twist, can make a huge difference.
Reggie certainly learned that: doing a small, good thing can be a very big deal.~
Visit Gbemi's blog: Mrs. Pilkington Knits.