Exclusive Cover Reveal: Nikki Tesla and the Ferrett-Proof Death Ray by Jess Keating
Jess Keating has a new series starting up in 2019 called The Elements of Genius. Today I can share the cover for the first book, Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray.
But before we get gawking, I had to ask Jess a few questions . . .
Travis: What was the spark (that was an unintentional pun, but since it’s about Tesla, let’s go with it) for
this new series? Also, WHAT IS THIS SERIES???
Jess Keating: A shocking pun! The Elements of Genius series is my answer to many questions. Can both boys
and girls be action heroes? (Yes.) Can genius come in any size, shape, or from any background?
(Also yes!) Can brilliant scientists also be savvy, adventurous, brave, and hilarious? (Big yes.)
Can we stop boxing in people and genders and fields of study from outdated patriarchal
perspectives? (You bet we can!)
The series is about a group of re-imagined geniuses from history, all working together to save the
world from perilous plots and evil villains. It stars Nikki Tesla, Charlotte Darwin, Mary Shelley,
Grace O’Malley, Albert Einstein, Adam Mozart, and Leo Da Vinci. That’s a lot of genius in one
place! There’s also a ferret named Pickles in the mix. It’s basically Ocean’s 11 meets Geek
Squad, but my heists have global consequences.
The spark! The path to this series was a winding one. I’m often saddened with how often women
are erased from history, particularly in the sciences. I write a lot of nonfiction biographies about
incredible women, and one thing that always runs through their stories is how they were battling
sexism at every turn. If they were lucky enough to make their mark in science, they often had to
rely on men to present their findings, so their names were lost in history.
So I wanted to shake things up. What if some of our historically “great minds” were genderbent
kids in our modern age? What if Nikola Tesla became Nikki? And Charles became Charlotte?
What if all types of kids from different backgrounds were able to participate in saving the world,
bringing their own brilliance to the mix?
Instantly, I knew it was a world I wanted to write about. I hope it’s equally fun to read about!
Travis: What was the most joyful part of making this book? What was the most difficult?
Jess Keating: There were two elements of creating this book that gave me great joy. The first was writing the
interaction between so many different geniuses, and therefore perspectives of seeing the world.
Each character in the book has their own specialty, drawn from their real life history, and putting
them all together in one story was hilarious to me—I felt like I could put them in any situation
and their personalities took over. It was like herding kittens, but in the best of ways!
The second thing I adored was writing all the action! I don’t get to talk about it often, but with
this book, the secret is out: I am a huge action movie fan. This book has chase scenes, dangerous
weapons, standoffs, interrogations, disguises, Interpol Most Wanted Lists, and more—we even
get to steal a private jet. In other words, the only thing missing is Tom Cruise and his signature
The most difficult part of making this book was getting myself to stop writing! I have so many
adventures for these characters in mind, it’s easy to get carried away. Luckily, I have a second
book on the way, so there’s more action and global catastrophes to come.
Travis: Unrelated (yet Tesla-related) question. Self driving cars: pro or con?
Jess Keating: Inevitable! I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.
Travis: The most important question. What snack puts you in peak creativity mode?
Jess Keating: An apple celery protein smoothie! I know. It sounds disgusting. I work out every morning before
I write, and the smoothie has therefore weaseled its way into my creative ritual. Don’t mess with
what works, right? They’re not so bad if you add a lot of cinnamon.
Thanks so much for having me!
Thanks, Jess! Now let’s have a look at the cover for Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray, illustrated by Lissy Marlin (@Lazyfish11 on Twitter). The book is published by Scholastic and comes out July 9, 2019.
(Click image to enlarge)
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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