Think back to yourself in middle school. Were you comfortable in your own skin? Many kids are trying to make sense of all the changes that are happening to them—both inside and out. I enjoyed reading Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber. It really reminded me of various internal battles that age group faces and how alone one can feel. Here is my interview with the author of Taking Up Space, Alyson Gerber. Be sure to enter the raffle at the end of the post for a chance to win a free copy of her book.
About the Book
Hi Alyson! Thank you for sharing Taking Up Space with me. Can you give us a short summary about the book?
TAKING UP SPACE is the story about a basketball player struggling to feel good about her body and herself.
When did it come out?
Tuesday, May 18!
Tell us who would especially enjoy this book?
TAKING UP SPACE is for readers who love basketball, YouTube cooking competitions, and friendship stories. This book will start honest conversations between parents and kids, students and teachers, and among friends about just how hard it is for most of us to feel good about ourselves and in our bodies.
About the Author
Did you enjoy writing as a child? Do you remember anything you wrote?
I always loved storytelling and writing. I kept a journal at certain times. But most of the creative writing I did was actually in theater. I wrote scenes and plays. I had a very cool director, Mr. Wann, who really encouraged us to express ourselves and think differently. At graduation, he gave out his own awards to students who he knew wouldn’t be recognized by the institution. He instilled a confidence in me that helped me find my voice and taught me to appreciate the process of writing.
Tell us about you—what other jobs did you have that were or were not related to writing?
Before I became a full-time author, I was the senior director of communications at a college. I loved the work, and I actually use a lot of the skills I learned from my years of in-house public relations and marketing in my job now.
How did you end up becoming an author?
I took a class on writing for magazines and newspapers. That was the first time I started exploring my experience. I tried writing a memoir, but it didn’t work. Fiction gave me the freedom to work out my feelings, while using my imagination to create drama, conflict, and tension. I don’t write real people or events. I invent characters and build out a made-up plot, but I use my real experiences and emotions to fuel the imaginary reality. I eventually got an MFA at the New School in Writing for Children and Teens, and that set on me the path to becoming an author.
Many of your books address issues that teens and tweens face. When you began writing, did you plan to write for this age group?
It didn’t take me very long to figure out that I was most interested in writing for tweens and teens. I had to grow up really fast, because of my scoliosis. I was managing adult responsibilities early on, so I could easily identify the adults who took me seriously from the ones who didn’t think I mattered or should get a say in what was happening to me. I want every kid to know they matter and deserve to be heard and seen and validated.
What’s your connection with the topics in Taking Up Space you choose to write about?
TAKING UP SPACE is based on my experience overcoming struggles with body image, body dysmorphia, self-worth, and disordered eating.
Are you a basketball player? What position did you play?
I’m not a basketball player. But I’ve always loved the sport. And I definitely would have played guard!
What authors would you say influenced your writing style? Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Ann M. Martin!
What was your original spark for the book?
I started writing TAKING UP SPACE, because after being in therapy and recovering from disordered eating, I had a relapse while I was pregnant with my daughter. The changes to my body triggered me and made me feel like I was going through puberty all over again. It was really scary for lots of reasons. But I got professional help immediately, and then I starting writing this book.
What research did you need to do?
While TAKING UP SPACE is own-voices and based on my experience, I did a lot of research. I interviewed social workers, psychiatrists, teachers, people in eating-disorder recovery. I also interviewed a few different people who grew up in houses where food was complicated. Between revisions, I read non-fiction books and research about bodies, food, trauma, and health. I really wanted to be informed and have a deep knowledge of the intersectional history of diet culture. I knew this story was so much bigger than me and my experience and I wanted to make sure I had a complete understanding of that bigger picture.
Did you face any challenges while writing Taking Up Space?
Writing this book was one big challenge after another for me. I had to face a lot of painful thoughts and feelings I had about myself. I knew it would be worth it and I was ready to take on this important topic, but every day when I went to write or revise, I had a sense of pushing myself to be as honest as possible. It felt a lot like cutting myself open and digging deep inside to see what I might find.
Share any writing exercises you did to learn more about your main character, Sarah.
I always do a few rounds of putting each of my characters into bad situations that are completely unrelated to the plot of the book to see what they do. I never use those scenes, but that writing helps me figure out how my characters make decisions. I get the chance to learn what matters to them and what doesn’t.
Any suggestions for ways to use Taking Up Space in the classroom?
Right now, there are a lot of news stories circulating about bodies and food in the pandemic. I really hope teachers will use TAKING UP SPACE to support students. Kids are encountering diet culture—a society that values weight, size, and shape over actual well-being—starting at a very, very young age. By 8 years old, at least half of kids want to be thinner, and they feel better when they’re on a diet. Kids need the tools to navigate the information they’re encountering so they can help themselves and their friends. And struggles with food, body image, and self-worth impact kids of all ages, genders, races, sizes, and socio-economic classes.
Scholastic will be offering a one-sheet to educators that will be available at the start of the school year!
What other groups do you see using this book?
TAKING UP SPACE is a perfect district, all-school, or grade-wide read. It would also be amazing in book clubs where adults and kids read together.
Are you doing school visits related to this book? Tell us more!
Definitely. I am already booking up for the fall! Most of the visits I do are for students in fourth grade through eighth grade. I usually present to one or two grades at a time, depending on the size of the school. Students have the chance to go on an interactive journey with me, where they learn what I went through and how writing and telling my truth helped me develop agency. But recently I’ve had a few requests for programs that are geared toward families and also just adults, which is exciting!
Alyson Gerber is the author of the critically acclaimed, own-voices novels Braced and Focused published by Scholastic. Her third novel Taking Up Space will be in stores on May 18, 2021. She has an MFA from The New School in Writing for Children and lives in New York City with her family. Visit her at alysongerber.com and find her everywhere else @alysongerber.
Natalie is the author of more than sixty books and resources for kids, including MALIK'S NUMBER THOUGHTS: A STORY ABOUT OCD (Albert Whitman & Co., 2022) and COOKIE CUTTERS & SLED RUNNERS (Sky Pony Press, 2017). Visit her website at www.natalierompella.com
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.
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