COVER REVEAL – The Renegade Reporters by Elissa Brent Weissman
When I do school visits, kids always ask where I get the ideas for my books. Well, the idea for The Renegade Reporters came from doing school visits!
When I was in elementary school, sixth graders took turns reading the morning announcements over the loudspeaker in the main office. But doing school visits as an author, I discovered that there are a surprising number of schools in America—both private and public—where the morning announcements now take the form of a television show. Schools have professional-quality studios, with microphones and green screens and advanced editing equipment. The kids do everything, from pitching and writing stories to holding cue cards and cameras to reporting and directing the finished product. As a visiting author, I’ve had the honor of being a guest on a number of school TV shows, and the students running them—broadcasting experts, all—inspired me to write a book about kids who are part of their school news show.
But I’m a “pantser,” not a planner, so the stories I write often surprise me. This one surprised me in Chapter One. Instead of the book starting with my main character, Ashley Simon-Hockheimer, assuming the role of lead anchor, it starts with Ash and her best friend Maya grudgingly watching The News at Nine from the control booth.
See, last year, when Ash was a roving reporter and Maya was her camerawoman, they accidentally happened to catch the gym teacher dancing around her office in a nothing but shorts and sports bra. They didn’t mean to violate Coach Kelly’s privacy, and they didn’t ask anyone to post the clip to YouTube. So it wasn’t their fault the video went viral, racking up millions of views in just a few days, or that the gym teacher felt so violated she had to switch schools. So it’s completely unfair that Ash and Maya are no longer allowed anywhere near the camera while the smug Harry E. Levin—who thinks he’s so cool because his name tells his age—gets to be lead anchor.
For Ash, watching from the control booth is unbearable; she and her friends could make a better news show in her row house basement! So that’s exactly what they decide to do.
The Renegade Reporters hit the streets of Baltimore, ready to cover far more than lunch menus and birthdays. It isn’t long before Ash and Maya happen upon another major story—this one involving the big media company that sponsors The News at Nine. And as they dig deeper, they start to reconsider the meaning of privacy, especially as it pertains to what we all do online. In The Renegade Reporters, The Social Dilemma meets sixth grade in Baltimore City.
Just like my fictional investigative reporters, I set out with a small idea and ended up uncovering a much bigger story that raises more questions than it answers. I love Ash, who is enterprising and fearless and flawed. I love South Baltimore, which is very much a character in this book. And I LOVE this cover with art by Maike Plenzke; it captures the mystery, energy, and spirit of friendship that drive this book. I hope The Renegade Reporters goes even a fraction as viral as Ash’s dancing gym teacher, so that it motivates young readers everywhere to think deeply about what matters to them and, like Ash and her friends, find a way to use their voices for positive change.
The Renegade Reporters comes out in August 2021 and is available for pre-order now! Every copy pre-ordered from The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore will come with a signed bookplate.
Elissa Brent Weissman is the award-winning author of several middle grade novels, including the Nerd Camp series, and the editor of Our Story Begins, an anthology of writing and art by today’s kids’ book creators back when they were kids themselves. She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and earned a Master’s degree in children’s literature at Roehampton University in London. Named one of CBS Baltimore’s Best Authors in Maryland, Elissa lives with her family in Baltimore, where she teaches creative writing to children, college students, and adults.