Cover Reveal & Interview: 'Grounded' by Aisha Saeed, S.K. Ali, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, & Huda Al-Marashi

SLJ shares an exclusive cover reveal for Grounded by Aisha Saeed, S.K. Ali, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, & Huda Al-Marashi, which publishes in May 2023. Additionally, we chat with some of the authors about the inspiration to write the story, the process of collaborating among four co-authors, and their initial cover reactions.

We are pleased to share an exclusive first look and cover reveal for Grounded by Aisha Saeed, S.K. Ali, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, & Huda Al-Marashi, which publishes in May 2023. But first, we spoke with some of the authors about the inspiration to write the story, the process of collaborating among four coauthors, and their initial reaction to seeing the cover for the first time.

School Library Journal: Tell us what Grounded is about and why you were inspired to write it.

Aisha Saeed: Grounded follows four unlikely kids who get stuck at the airport during a thunderstorm and come together to undertake an adventure to find a missing cat. Told in alternating points of view, Grounded is full of humor and heart and shares what happens on one unexpected night that will change these kids forever. This story was conceived of and written during the pandemic. We were inspired to tell a joyful story that would make kids laugh, but also send home the message that sometimes, even when things don’t go according to plan, good things may still await.

SLJ: How did the four of you come together to write this? What inspired the collaboration?

AS: I had an idea of a story told from four alternating viewpoints of four kids and an adventure in an airport during a thunderstorm. The four of us authors have known each other for years. We’d all been involved with the middle grade anthology Once Upon An Eid, and I was so thrilled when we could all take this seed of an idea and grow it into a story together.

SLJ: What was the writing process like? Did you outline together? Did you write individually, a chapter at a time, and then confer?

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow: This kind of collaboration required A LOT of meetings! We met virtually to brainstorm, outline and re-outline, and discuss chapters as we went, and we critiqued each other’s chapters in between those meetings. We were Zoom-ing biweekly during the heaviest drafting and revision stages, but it was fun to talk through the story together and laugh at our characters’ antics. It was also affirming to hear what was going well. Writing is so solitary, so having this almost immediate feedback was a definite welcome change from the typical. Additionally, every time we wrote a chapter that meant three other chapters were being written. It was cool seeing the novel develop so quickly! And because we were revising every four chapters, our first draft was pretty crisp.

SLJ: Along the same vein, did you develop the characters together? What about the dynamics among characters and their relationships? How did you make that work?

JT: As the story seed came from Aisha, the initial character ideas came from her, too. However, these character descriptions started out as just maybe one sentence. Picking from these characters and then fully developing them and making them our own was a fun creative writing exercise. The character I picked was simply a cool kid who loses his sister in the airport. I loved then building on that to create Feek Stiles, a 12-year-old sneaker enthusiast and budding spoken word artist, whose desire to hang out more with his celebrity-poet father is thwarted by having to babysit his kid sister.

As we wrote, we started to notice some natural alliances forming between characters and some natural conflicts as well. While we included moments of tension between the characters, we wanted them to all form authentic bonds. Thinking through how to bring them all together when they were so different was one of the things I loved about the drafting experience.

SLJ: How did you feel when you saw the cover for the first time? Did you have to go through several iterations before you arrived at this one? How did you know that you finally had the right one?

AS: We love the cover so much! No matter how the adage goes, we can’t help but judge books by their coverand this cover captures the heart of the story we are telling. Very grateful to Celia Krampien for relaying the intrigue and drama to come within the pages from the storm, to the kids on the search, and the ever-so-subtle flicker of a tail. Celia presented us with several wonderful options and it was hard to choose which one we loved the most (a good problem to have). Ultimately, we loved the action-oriented nature of the cover, and those of us with kids in the middle grade reader target audience also asked them to weigh in as well! 

The cover also introduces young readers to the characters in this story: social media aspiring Nora, animal advocate Hanna, poet Feek, and slightly nervous karate aficionado Sami.

SLJ: Grounded touches on such a wide range of issues relevant to young people today. How do you envision librarians and educators sharing this text with their students?

JT: We hope that librarians and educators will suggest this book to the kid who simply needs an escape. Or that they’ll read a chapter aloud each day as a special treat and break. While our four main characters contend with important issues as we all do, their stories within Grounded are really about letting loose and having a fun adventure with complete strangers. They learn lessons about who they are and how to get along with one another, but ultimately this book is a fun romp at night in a big open, but often, restricted space. Early on in the book, one character wonders, “What’s it like to go out and search an airport at night?” We’re hoping kids will be intrigued by imagining that and have just as much fun finding the answer as we did.  

 

And now, without further ado, here is the cover of Grounded, which will be out May 9, 2023. 

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