Student Spotlight:
Zenaia Gray ’30

From Imagination to Publication

Becoming an 8-Year-Old Author

A cliffhanger to end every chapter — that’s how Zenaia Gray ’30 described her choice of plot device when interviewed about “Magic and Spells,” the book she wrote and illustrated when she was in third grade. “I like to give it some suspense,” she said to Adriana Trigiani, the host of “Adriana Ink,” a weekly Facebook Live book chat. The subtitle of the book itself leads readers to ask questions. Trigiani — a New York Times bestselling author, playwright, filmmaker, television writer and producer, held up the book to display the front cover and read the subtitle out loud: “Book 1. Petunia and the Silver Trident.” “You say it’s book one. Are you planning book two?” Now in fourth grade, Gray solved that mystery with an exclusive announcement: Her second book is in progress.

Gray was inspired to write “Magic and Spells” at school when her teacher handed out notebooks to her and her friends while they were playing a game. The young author began writing in the notebook right away, incorporating the game into a story, brainstorming plot ideas and imagining the characters. “You took us on a journey in this book ... you created all these incredible worlds. I find your ability to take old fairy tales, new kind-of-crazy paranormal magic and ... make a stew out of it,” said Trigiani, who has interviewed numerous authors and guests from the entertainment industry, including John Grisham, David Baldacci, Matthew McConaughey, Kathie Lee Gifford and Michael J. Fox.

The inventiveness and curiosity that Gray displays on the pages of her book are also evident in the classroom. Her fourth-grade teacher, Rachel Hinnant, describes her as “a child who often uses phrases like, ‘I was thinking that …’ ‘Maybe we …’ and ‘What if?’ She is not only full of creative and ambitious ideas, but she has the initiative, industry and motivation to follow through on them. I can count on Zenaia to see beyond the specifics of an assignment and to find ways to own it, personalize it and extend it as an opportunity for growth, understanding and expression.”

Another Flint Hill faculty member, Zita Gray, who teaches Upper School chemistry and is also Zenaia’s mother, credits the Lower School teaching staff for their guidance. “Zenaia’s teachers have been instrumental in her love for writing. I appreciate that they encourage students to collaborate and brainstorm ideas throughout the writing process. There is also peer editing, revising and sharing their work with the class. The teachers provide students with opportunities to express their ideas through writing a poem or short story or doing research.”

Gray described the progression of growth she has seen in her daughter’s writing skills. “When Zenaia started kindergarten, writing was a big part of their daily classroom activity. Some of the students, including Zenaia, didn’t know how to spell certain words yet, so she ended up drawing and illustrating her stories instead. That was a great start to her love for writing and telling stories. Over the years, her teachers continue to encourage her to express her ideas through writing, whether it’s creative writing or a research paper about a famous person, her favorite animal or the Chesapeake Bay. The teachers continue to provide opportunities for students to develop and foster a love of writing. Her teachers also encourage students to read, and the love of writing comes from the love of reading.”

Becoming an author has opened up a whole new world of experiences for Gray. She summarized the memorable moments: “I enjoyed the writing process, although it took several months to complete. Illustrating was another favorite, even though I had to redraw many times. When I received the first draft of my book, I jumped for joy. It was a pleasure communicating with the publisher and putting everything together. Lastly, I had fun doing a virtual meet-and-greet, including my interview with Adriana Trigiani. I also met with many grade-school students from the Philippines. They asked a lot of questions!”

A particularly intriguing question that Trigiani asked was what she thinks her mission is. “My mission,” she said, “is to inspire other young authors like me to do big things and try to make big accomplishments in their life.” Zenaia Gray’s own life story is only just beginning, and the next chapters are sure to be fascinating.

“Magic and Spells: Book 1. Petunia and the Silver Trident” is available through online booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.