Crown has acquired two middle grade novels by bestselling YA author Nic Stone (2017’s Dear Martin; and Odd One Out, due October 9). First up is Clean Getaway, scheduled for release in spring 2020, which follows an 11-year-old black boy and his white grandmother on an impromptu road trip. The forthcoming novels will be edited by Stone’s current editor, Phoebe Yeh, v-p and publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers. The deal for North American rights was brokered by Yeh and Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.

In Clean Getaway, a contemporary novel set against the backdrop of the history of segregation in the American South, Stone explores issues of self-discovery, humanity, and heroism. In trouble at school and home, William “Scoob” Lamar eagerly accepts his beloved G’ma’s invitation to go on a “rapid-dash adventure” in her new RV, but he soon realizes that their road trip is anything but normal—and that G’ma may not be the perfect person he thought she was.

Stone’s inspiration for Clean Getaway had an unconventional source: a Twitter headline about a grandmother who was arrested for shoplifting a diamond bracelet from a Jared store in the Atlanta area. “The headline caught my attention, and I did some digging around,” Stone said. “I discovered that this woman was a renowned international jewel thief—apparently being in her later years hadn’t stopped her swag. She was still out there taking what she wanted, and I began thinking about basing a novel on her story. I’ve always wanted to do a story about coming to grips with the humanity of your heroes, and here Scoob comes to understand that his grandmother, whom he loves more than anyone, is a person who makes mistakes.”

The author found that writing for a middle grade audience posed new challenges (“For one thing, I couldn’t use cuss words—that was a challenge, I won’t lie! And the scope of the story was different from YA”), but she sought advice from a friend and fellow author she deeply respects. “I asked Jason Reynolds about his experience writing for this age level, and he told me to think about writing for middle grade as writing about kids who are preparing to deal with things they will eventually deal with in YA novels,” she said. “That made a lot of sense to me.”

As she embarked on Clean Getaway, Stone realized that “Scoob was the easiest character I’ve ever written,” and in part credits her own son for that. “He is only six, so he’s not quite where Scoob is yet, but I listen to him talk all day long,” she said. “I was able to project a little into the future and lean into my own child’s voice to find Scoob’s voice, which was very helpful.”

Yeh noted that she is “in awe” of Stone’s smooth transition from writing for teens to writing for middle graders. “Just as she has in her YA novels, Nic has here found a storytelling voice that’s emotional, tinged with humor, and eminently relatable,” she said. “I love the intergenerational relationship between the two characters and the way she lets readers sense right away that something a little fishy is going on. On one level, the novel is a hoot to read, and on another—and this is what Nic does so brilliantly—she slips in more serious things, about family and history and self-discovery, which makes the story so richly textured.”

The second middle grade book Stone will write for Crown has a very different focus and cast of characters: inspired by the iconic 1993 film The Sandlot, the as-yet-untitled novel will center on a softball team of black girls. “Sandlot is just about my favorite movie of all time,” she said. “I just hope I can pull this off.”

Her editor is not worried. Recalling her initial reaction to the story idea, Yeh said, “I think what popped into my head was ‘this is a no brainer.’ Nic is so gifted at starting with perennial themes and making something new and fresh out of them. We all love Sandlot, but how she is rethinking it and giving it a new twist is part of the genius of Nic Stone. We are so proud to publish Nic’s novels for young people, and I look forward to continuing to share her stories with today’s readers.”