KBKL Spotlight On This Is Our Rainbow: A.J. Sass

It’s Spotlight Time!

All month long we’re going to be chatting with a few of the awesome authors
behind the middle grade anthology:

THIS IS OUR RAINBOW

A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.

From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aisa Salazar, and A.J. Sass.

Today we’re chatting with one of the contributing authors, A.J. Sass!

This is A.J. Everyone say, “Hi, A.J.!”

Photo Credit: Deven Cao

Welcome to Kick-butt Kidlit, A.J.! Tell us about yourself!

Hi! My name is A.J. Sass. I’m a competitive figure skater who is passionate about the intersections of neurodiversity, queer, and Jewish identity in children’s literature. I am the author of Ana on the Edge, which is a Junior Library Guild Selection that was named an ALA Rainbow Book List 2021 Top Ten Choice for Young Readers as well as a 2020 Booklist Editors’ Choice. I grew up in the Upper Midwest, came of age in the South, and now call the San Francisco Bay Area home with my partner and our two cats. My next book, Ellen Outside the Lines, releases on March 22, 2022. 

What was the inspiration behind your contribution to THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

My debut novel, Ana on the Edge, featured a figure skating navigating her nonbinary identity, both on and off the ice. Once my main character, Ana, realizes she is nonbinary, she chooses to stay in her sport and find program, choreography, and costumes that complement her identity. But I know that isn’t always feasible for nonbinary kids. 

I wanted to explore the experience of being a nonbinary athlete from a different angle in my contribution to This Is Our Rainbow. In my story, Balancing Acts, former gymnast Kai (e/eir/em) is returning to the gym for the first time since e quit gymnastics to cheer on eir old teammates who are competing at a meet. As you can imagine, a lot of emotions rise to the surface as Kai watches eir former teammates: regret that e’s not out there with them, but also relief that no one is watching em compete and seeing a girl when e isn’t one. The biggest message I hoped to share with this story is there is a place in sports for trans and nonbinary athletes, whether it’s participating in a sport you already love or discovering a new, more inclusive sport to take part in.

What’s your favourite line from your story in THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

The last one! It goes:

“Shoulders back, head high, Kai doesn’t hesitate when e steps forward to tumble this time.”

For so much of this short story, Kai remembers feeling insecure and unhappy when e was participating in the sport e loves. By the end, Kai has found a new way to continue eir passion for athletics, an activity that affirms eir identity and makes em feel confident. All of these feelings, desires, and hopes feel like they are reflected in that line, making it my favorite.

What are you currently reading?

I’m in between books at the moment. I just finished reading Eliot Schrefer’s The Darkness Outside Us, which is a YA sci-fi with a mystery surrounding two queer characters. And I’m looking forward to diving into Both Can Be True by Jules Machias soon. It’s a dual-perspective middle grade contemporary novel, and one of the characters is nonbinary.

What’s your best piece of kick-butt advice?

Give yourself the same grace you’d extend to others when you encounter a setback. 

My athletic- and academic-focused backgrounds both placed high emphasis on hard work, winning, and success. That’s great and it can be a wonderful motivator. But it can also produce undue stress and anxiety if things don’t go the way you’d hoped. It can also lead to negative self-talk and feeling like an imposter if you don’t live up to your own high standards.

So, if you’ve experienced a setback, or if you’re struggling or don’t feel like you are living up to your own high expectations, imagine how you’d speak to a loved one facing a similar situation. Encourage yourself. Remember how far you’ve already come. A little grace can go a long way.

It really can.

Thank you so much for joining us, A.J.!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
It’s on shelves now!

Cover Art by JesnCin
Cover Design by Sylvia Bi

Add THIS IS OUR RAINBOW on Goodreads!

Connect with A.J. on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or through his website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
Contest ends Friday, October 29th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!
There’s one last KBKL Spotlight on This Is Our Rainbow post coming up!

Don’t forget to check out our previous posts featuring:

Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Alex Gino

Mariama J. Lockington

Lisa Bunker

Ashley Herring Blake

Marieke Nijkamp

Eric Bell

Nicole Melleby

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