Author Ava Szalay is an 8th grader at SCH with a passion for writing in addition to soccer and piano. She has experimented with poetry, personal narratives and other forms of writing. This summer, she used her free time to start her novel, A Spark of Hope, and to research and write this article.
On the outside Ella Stevens seems to lead an ordinary teenage life, her backpack slung over her shoulder, sweatshirt wrapped around her, and her laptop right by her side. What people may not realize is that Stevens, a junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH), takes on the roles of a hardworking student, activist, and most recently author.
Stevens’s passion for being a leader of Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) led her to write her new book, A Cape For Candy. This book focuses on a non-binary kid, Candy, who goes on an exciting super-hero adventure to find a cape. A non-binary person uses “they” and “them” pronouns in order to not associate with any gender and they are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Stevens saw many of her non-binary friends suffer from depression as a result of not having representation in books and in everyday life. They felt misunderstood and Stevens wanted to change that. “...Every time someone misgenders you or uses the wrong pronoun it is just like another kick into that sensitive spot. ”
While Stevens worked to create the literature, her non-binary friend, SCH student Whimsy Mark-Ockerbloom, also was playing an important role.
Whimsy is a senior at SCH who eagerly agreed to complete the illustrations for A Cape For Candy in order to better get the message across. They even state, “I think illustration and imagery are incredibly important when it comes to any media… you can convey a lot through imagery that you might not be able to convey as efficiently through words.” Whimsy’s curious and daring personality helped Ella to see things in different ways and helped Candy to develop as a character. Whimsy states, “I just hope this book opens the door for understanding nonbinary identities and allowing people of all ages to examine gender and understand people that don't necessarily fit the binary.”
Some of Stevens’ non-binary friends were misunderstood and Candy, her character wasn’t always embraced either. People couldn’t understand and grasp her concept. She was told that her non-binary character was a girl based upon their looks which made Stevens worried that her message wasn’t getting across. After criticism and feedback, Stevens realized how important it was that people adapt to her character and the premise of her book. Stevens used her friends as her inspiration and motivation, but she also used the help of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) program at SCH.
With the guidance of SCH’s CEL Capstone program, Stevens was able to launch her book. The CEL Capstone program is a platform where sophomore students can solve problems they face in innovative ways through design thinking. It consists of four stages: Discover, Define, Design, and Deliver. She states, “The CEL program helped me look at different aspects of how I could go forward with my project and how I could publish it.” Through this program, Stevens will be able to publish her book on Amazon self-publishing.
Amazon self-publishing allows Ella to upload her book and convert it into a Kindle eBook for free and then sell it to readers across the globe. (Selling electronically is less expensive than selling printed copies.) Therefore, her book will be more accessible and reach a wider audience. “I wanted something that I could put out in the world and not only put out to the libraries in the school…” Stevens hopes to go far with this book and raise awareness to all kids and adults about non-binary identities.
Ella hopes to have her book hit Amazon by the end of the year.