Though Kate Beasley’s debut middle grade novel Gertie’s Leap to Greatness (FSG) doesn’t publish until October, between its multi-house auction, six-figure deal, and illustrations by Caldecott Honoree Jillian Tamaki, the author’s career is poised for its own leap to greatness.
Editor Grace Kendall was new to FSG when she met Beasley’s agent Emily Van Beek of Folio Jr. at a cocktail party around the time of this year’s BEA. Van Beek talked up Gertie, and the story excited Kendall. So when Kendall received the official pitch in her email that Monday morning, she started reading the book immediately. “I read the first line, I don’t know why I did that, I don’t always do that, and it sent a shiver down my spine. I knew I was in the hands of a really great writer.”
That first line, “The bullfrog was only half dead, which was just perfect,” hooked Kendall, just as she hopes it will hook readers. “The thing that struck me about this manuscript,” she said, “is that anyone can have a great first line, or chapter, or first paragraph, and our job as editors is to spruce up the space in between. But Kate writes a whole book. She strings one sentence to another, to a plot arc, to the next. And there are lines in the book that are just so resonant.” The quality of the prose is what sealed Kendall’s determination to acquire the book. “Gertie fits into the list at FSG of timeless classics that kids are going to keep reaching for.”
After securing the book in a six-house auction in summer 2014, Kendall set about securing a spot illustrator for the book. “There were just moments and scenes begging to be seen,” Kendall said, “and [the book] begged, from the point of acquisition, to get illustrated. I went a bit Beautiful Mind on the project, you could see all these [artist] samples tacked up on the walls of my office.”
Around the same time, Kendall read This One Summer and felt that Tamaki’s style would be pitch perfect for Gertie. “There’s a scene [in This One Summer] where the younger girl is dancing around the table.” The scene made Kendall want to see Gertie through Tamaki’s eyes, because for Kendall both Beasley’s prose and Tamaki’s illustrations had the same “elegant, muscular, and thoughtful” tone.
Tamaki agreed to illustrate, and started by selecting her own 20 scenes to draw, from which Kendall chose a final 13–15 images for inclusion. Not long after Tamaki signed on to the project, This One Summer received the Caldecott Honor and Printz Honor.
An Author to Watch
Author Beasley said she started out as a voracious reader as a kid, devouring everything by Beverly Cleary. “I ready many of her books many, many times,” she said, citing Louis Sachar’s Holes as another favorite. It wasn’t until she took a creative writing class on a whim at college, while trying to decide which major to declare, that it even occurred to her to be a writer. Before that, “I didn’t realize it was a career,” Beasley said, “I just saw the books on the shelves and didn’t think about how they got there.”
After college, she went to the Vermont College of Fine Arts to study writing for children. She had drafted a list of her favorite books and realized they were all children’s books, and mostly middle grade. “That’s where I feel most comfortable,” she said of the genre. “Those are the books I love the most.”
Gertie began in graduate school, and she has worked on the manuscript since 2011, including two passes with mentors when the book was her thesis project. She finds that the first draft is the hardest, though in a rare admission from any writer, Beasley said she loves revisions. “I get to make [the book] better. I really love that part,” she said.”
Kate Beasley’s sister, Cassie Beasley, released her own debut novel Circus Mirandus last fall, after she sold it to Dial the same week as Kate sold her book. “It was kind of exciting to watch her go through it,” Beasley said of her sister’s debut release, which preceded her own. “I had a better idea of what was going to happen.” The pair also help each other with edits. “It probably does help that I have a sister who can read my stuff immediately,” Beasley said, “and it’s great if you have somebody you can trust that you respect as a writer,” Kate said of her sister.
Soon Beasley will get to experience her own book release, and the attendant promotional flurry. And all the while she’s working on her second book for Kendall, though she’s still in her least favorite “first draft” phase, and the content of that book is still in flux. But with Gertie’s release on the horizon, Kendall is confident that Beasley is a new author to watch. “It is shocking,” Kendall said. “There are people who have done this their whole lives, and there’s so much you can learn about craft, and there are some things that are innate. [Beasley]’s a young master. What it is, in my opinion, is an ability to craft a sentence that is chock full of voice, emotion, and plot, and it’s just this character’s journey. That’s why I think the cover is so perfect – it’s just this girl midstride in everything.”