February 13

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COVER REVEAL: The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel

When I’m coming up with a new idea, I spend a lot of time thinking about do-overs. If I could go back to some of the trickiest, scariest, loneliest times in my life, what would I do differently? If I knew then what I do today, how would I have handled those moments where I felt small, overwhelmed, or unprepared.

 

And since I write middle-grade fiction, most of the memories that I mine for material are chock full of awkward embarrassment.

 

Oh, poor sweet middle school Beth.

 

Why would you give yourself those bangs? And did you have to try to fix them and fix them and fix them until they stuck straight out?

 

What made you think the fact that James laughed every time you walked by meant he liked you and wasn’t making fun of your catalog jeans?

 

And that time you had the flu but went to Tina’s party anyway? When you hacked up a glob of mucous did you have to be facing pretty, popular Elise? Did you have to get her smack between the shoulder blades?

 

Using those moments as inspiration, I thought about a girl who would do anything for a redo of those kind of days. What if every single year she did something so embarrassing that it was all anyone associated with her? What if those ridiculous moments became how she saw herself?

 

What if she finally had enough?

 

I needed help fleshing out her list of humiliations. I put a call on social media for people to share their mortifying middle school moment. Boy, did people deliver.

 

Teachers who made students caught with gum spend the rest of the day with it stuck to the tip of their nose. Tripping down bleachers leading to flashing entire classes. Belting out the wrong stanza at concerts. Aqua Net-soaked hair igniting over a Bunsen burner. White jeans and periods. Home-done haircuts gone mullet-level bad. And bodily fluids. So many bodily fluids.

 

A friend reading the litany of humiliations people shared summed up middle school for everyone: “At the time, it seemed like every other kid had it so easy and I was the only one with inch-thick grandma glasses and a horrible mullet.”

 

The truth is, we don’t give ourselves nearly as much grace as we extend to others. And our focus inward can cloud our ability to see that no one leaves middle school entirely unscathed. But luckily for me, we do leave with a wealth of stories.

 

I used every mortifying story I could while creating Pipi McGee, who is so synonymous with humiliation that throughout the halls of Northbrook Middle, doing something embarrassing is known as “pulling a McGee.”

 

But as an eighth grader, Pipi’s about to put middle school behind her. And she’s determined to do whatever it takes to make sure her list of humiliations won’t trail her into high school like toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

 

Showcasing Pipi’s conviction, vulnerability, and, especially, her emerging self-awareness was a constant balancing act as I crafted her vibrant, seesawing reality. Depicting it visually seemed impossible.

 

That is, until Billy Yong entered the picture.

 

When the team at Running Press began sharing ideas for the cover design of The Humiliations of Pipi McGee, I couldn’t get enough of Yong’s work. Even his earliest sketches of Pipi and her world captured her fun, vulnerable, but focused personality, down to the steel in her spine and stoop of her shoulders.

 

I mean, look at this cover! Look at Pipi’s determined expression, the trail she leaves crumpled behind as she strides purposefully forward. See how she’s supported with wings remade from memories of when she had been mocked. Even the lockers behind her reflect the tie-dyed mixture of emerging jadedness and lingering childish magic that encompasses every middle school experience.

 

If you see someone coming toward you with Pipi’s expression, get out of her way. She might be seeking redemption, but she’ll take revenge, too.

 

Beth Vrabel is author of the Cybils’-nominated Caleb and Kit, ILA award-winning A Blind Guide to Stinkville, JLG-selection A Blind Guide to Normal, The Reckless Club,and the Pack of Dorks series. She has received starred and positive trade reviews across the board for all of her novels and is active in school and library visits around the country. She and her family live in Canton, Connecticut.