The Gray is Chris Baron’s newest middle grade book. I chatted with him about writing prose after having written two books in verse. We also talked about anxiety, horses and the differences between him and his protagonist, Sasha. Keep reading to see The Gray‘s beautiful book trailer.
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Interview with Chris Baron About The Gray
Hi Chris, welcome to Reading Middle Grade! I was thrilled to hear you have a new book out this summer. Could you tell us a bit about The Gray?
Thank you! So glad to be here!
This is your first non-verse story that I’ve read. How’s the process different from writing in verse, compared to prose? Which do you prefer?
Since poetry feels more like my native language, I wrote much of The Gray in verse during the writing process. Of course, there is a lot of prose that is poetic and lyrical, and I am hoping that’s true in places for The Gray, but eventually, the verse chapters became prosaic, and as I explored the story, it was clear that this truly is a novel meant for prose.
The way chapters unfolded, I found the story demanded more detail and exploration of setting, of time, and of action. So, I like to say that while The Gray is prose, the spirit of the book is verse.
This story starts with a bang: Sasha hits a kid in his school in a moment of anxiety. Anxiety affects us in different ways; of course, it’s never an excuse for violence. But why did you want to include this scene in the story?
I agree. This is a really difficult event for Sasha–it’s the moment of change–and with the help of his parents, and his therapist, they decide that he needs a break–a new direction–a new chance.
So many of us suffer from external pressures-school, family life, various traumas, and sometimes this leads us into our own “Gray.” Sometimes we lose control, but these moments don’t completely define us. I think that’s one of the core themes in The Gray.
Sasha needs change. This is where he starts to remember more of who he is. His family, and his own gifts of sensitivity to nature and empathy for the world around him. He remembers his uncle’s favorite story about Rabbi Akiva and the Stone. The idea that, as it reads in The Gray, “Even the smallest drop of water can change the largest stone.” Maybe this means the same thing for Sasha as it did for Rabbi Akiva–that if this kind of slow change is possible-tiny drops of water changing an impossible stone–that maybe there is hope for him too? He can persevere, be resilient, and that it’s never too late.
Even though we can’t always see it, the change is still happening.
When he’s with his aunt Ruth, Sasha learns new coping mechanisms for managing his anxiety. His bond with the horse, the Gray, helps him a lot. Have you found animals to be therapeutic for you?
Animals are incredible companions. I grew up with dogs, cats, horses, and way too many fish and reptiles. It’s a remarkable thing to be a friend and companion to a being who isn’t human. Their energy is pure and, in many ways, far less complicated than we are.
Animals have been healing in my life. When I moved from NYC to Upstate, I became a companion to a horse. It changed my life to spend so much time with this wondrous creature, bigger, stronger, faster than me, but so willing to hang out with me. It changed me, and it connected me to a world far bigger than myself.
I think this is why we see programs in Equine Therapy more and more. Animal companionship helps us to be more human.
You and Sasha share some similarities, but in what ways are you different from him?
Certainly, as a work of fiction, maybe Sasha’s story is more adventurous than my own. I think Sasha’s Jewish heritage is very close to mine. The faith, the culture, and even the more mystical parts were all something I experienced with my family.
Also, when I was in second grade, we moved from New York City to a horse farm upstate. I went from being a city kid to suddenly living in the middle of a forest near a pool that had a giant stone in it. We called it the meteorite because it was huge, like it had no place being there. I learned to ride horses, love nature, and made new friends with extremely different interests. So yes…so many similarities.
But there are, of course, differences.
In some places, it’s based on very real events. In others, I am relying on a sense of “what if?” That’s one of the best parts of writing. We can explore what we “might” have done. if we were only….?
What do you hope readers take away from Sasha’s story?
I hope that readers will meet Sasha and, through his story, not only feel seen and heard but know that it is okay to need help. I want students to discover the many practical ways they can face anxiety themselves and to feel supported so they know they are not alone!
I hope readers enjoy a story full of suspense, adventure, supernatural mysteries, unexpected friendships, and quiet family strength.
I hope readers will find a connection (or learn more) about Jewish Heritage and spirituality, multi-generational families, and finding the quiet, lighted paths on the journey to be their most authentic selves.
Finally, I hope readers will believe that “even the smallest drop of water can change the largest stone.” Slow change over time makes anything possible.
I love this cute book trailer! How do you feel about it?
I love it. Dan Haring is such a talented writer and artist. I Love the work he did to capture Celia Krampien’s incredible cover and bring it to life. I also wanted the trailer to demonstrate the “Gravity” of the story yet also show the practical approach Sasha takes with his strategies to face The Gray!
Thank you so much for stopping by, Chris!
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About Chris Baron
Chris Baron is the award winning author of Novels for young (and young at heart) readers including All Of Me an NCTE Notable Book, The Magical Imperfect a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book/ a SLJ Best Book of 2021 & the forthcoming novels, The Gray (23) Forest Heart (24) from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and The Secret of the Dragon Gems, a Middle Grade novel co-authored with Rajani LaRocca from Little Bee Books (23) and editor of ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS: A MIDDLE GRADE PASSOVER ANTHOLOGY, from Abrams (24), He is a Professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center. He grew up in New York City, but he completed his MFA in Poetry in 1998 at SDSU. HE lives in San Diego with his family. He is represented by Rena Rossner from the Deborah Harris Literary Agency.
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