I am proud to introduce to you Jenna Bryson, the author of the book, "Grace from Outer Space." I'll let her tell you her story. Please welcome Jenna with open arms, and be sure to visit her site!
STORYTELLING IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE
by Jenna Bryson
I am a woman of many hats. In my life, I have been a singer, a songwriter, a children's party princess (more on that in a bit), an actor, a business owner, a producer, and most recently, an author.
I create content, I perform, I entertain, and I dream-up ideas, but mostly, above all else, I consider myself a storyteller. I love a good story and I love telling stories.
For most of my life, I've been trying to figure out a way to make my own dreams come true, but by mid-2012, I had an epiphany of sorts: I realized I wanted to empower the dreams and expand the possibilities of others.
As a storyteller, I knew I wanted to create an original character to help me achieve this goal. As a professional party princess (yes, I'm one of those weird grown-ups who still likes to wear costumes and play pretend with five-year-olds), I knew children would be the target audience. And as a science/space enthusiast, I knew I wanted the project to advocate S.T.E.M. education.
Let me go back to that party princess thing for a minute: while I love performing for children, and seeing a child's face light-up at the sight of a "real" princess is one of life's priceless experiences, my heart is often conflicted by the messages of most fairy-tales As an advocate of science, reason, exploration, and self-discovery, I want little girls (and little boys) to see that there is more possible for them than simply a life of physical beauty and peer acceptance.
And sure, there's that whole thing about internal beauty which princesses also represent, but I want to go even further and suggest that the word "beauty" not even be part of the equation. I want girls to be curious, I want them to hunger for knowledge... I want them to be comfortable in their own skin and to pursue whatever interests they like, despite whether or not these interests are perceived as "cool" by their friends... and I want to teach them how to think.
I let this mission statement, if you will, bounce around in my brain for quite some time. I got to thinking about how much power fictional characters have over children. In fact, young children don't separate fictional characters and stories from reality. This is something I experienced first hand, as I would read little girls a fairytale and I would point to the picture on the page and ask them, "Who's that?" and they would unanimously shout "That's YOU!"
And then it hit me like a red-hot sun flare: Grace from Outer Space. The title alone was enough to send me zooming around my living room with excitement, but then the rest of the idea burst to life and I knew I was in for a ride.
It would be a story about a futuristic female heroine, who lives in outer space on an intergalactic ship. 'Grace' would be a child, about the same age as the demographic I would be writing for (approx. 4-8 years-old), which was very important to me because, since the book would be filled with space-science facts and theories, I didn't want for children to feel as if they were being talked-down to; 'Grace' would be a curious character, one children could aspire to be like and, therefore, children would learn through her eyes and experiences. And she would represent a futuristic ideal of an interstellar society by living on a space ship with her scientific family.
Solidifying my idea for the concept of 'Grace' was a paper I read about a study conducted by the US Dept. of Commerce entitled "Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation" which summarized
that a lack of female role models and gender stereotyping may be factors contributing to the discrepancy of
women and men in STEM jobs. 'Grace' would be a breakthrough in gender
stereotyping, in a marketplace where most "science-y" merchandise is
geared towards boys, and give little girls a role model they could look
up to. Literally. Into outer space!
From the outset, I knew that this idea was powerful, and had the potential to be more than just one book, and even more than a series of books; it could be an animated series, a live show with music, and so much more, all in the name of showing kids that science and space exploration is for everyone, boys and girls.
With this in mind, I wrote the initial story as a slice-of-life introduction to the character. Stylistically, it's a rhyming picture book. It's fun, imaginative, and contains plenty of space-science facts and theories. The picture below contains actual writing from the book along with concept art by illustrator Mike Davis, just to give you an idea of what the spreads might look like.
I am currently running a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter to turn this first story into an interactive eBook app. Book two in the 'Grace' series is already written as well, but in this story, readers will get a deeper look into our heroine's "universe", if you will. Where does 'Grace' go to school? What's her teacher like? How does she get around in space? And most importantly, what is she excited to learn about today?!
Because I myself like to live by this philosophy, as stated perfectly by astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, "Know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others," in every subsequent story I write in the Grace from Outer Space series, these ideals will be exemplified by the main character.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. The point of all of this, is to say that there is truth in fiction. Stories can teach us so much. Stories can show us how to live, how to think, and who to be. And although girls can't be a princess (well, not a really-real princess) when they grow up, they can be astronauts. And I hear the pay is great.
So, of all the things I have been or will be in my life, a scientist is not one of them. What I am, however, is a storyteller, and I am storytelling in the name of science.