“I’ve written 58 books and J.J. always reads them first,” says Chris Grabenstein, who refers to his wife, J.J., as his “secret weapon.” That will change this fall when J.J.’s name appears alongside his on their debut middle grade novel, Shine! (Random House, Nov.).
A voiceover and stage performer, J.J. says that her interest in writing for children was piqued by her husband’s career. “Being married to a children’s author makes you start thinking about the books you read as a kid,” she adds. “I’d been thinking about the books that made an impression on me and the books I wish I’d read. That’s how Shine! was born.”
The novel follows 12-year-old Piper, who believes that some people are born to shine and that she simply isn’t one of them. It’s a book J.J. says she wishes she’d discovered as a child—a book with this message: Who you are is more important than what you accomplish. Chris notes that the novel’s premise was also inspired by the pressure on children to succeed academically, citing the competitiveness of some New York City schools and the recent college admissions scandal. “We wanted to write something that shows how people shine in different ways,” he says. “You don’t have to be in the spotlight to shine—you can do so just by being a good person.”
While writing Shine! the Grabensteins quickly realized that they “create very differently,” and the duo leaned into their respective skill sets. “Chris has been typing for so many years that he thinks through his fingers,” J.J. says. “I become the character and act out the scene, while he has a whole dialogue in his head that I can’t hear.” Chris adds, “I have the curse of the journalism student and can type 120 words per minute, so I do most of the typing. Once we have something on paper, we can start acting it out and making revisions. J.J. is great at characters, motivations, and what characters sound like. She does the lion’s share of reading what we’ve written out loud, because I mumble too much when I read aloud.”
J.J. says that she hopes Shine! reaches readers who feel that they don’t shine and helps them realize that they do in their own way.
Today, 1:30–2:30 p.m. Chris and J.J. Grabenstein will sign galleys at Table 8.