Author Spotlight Series · biography · picture book

Embracing “First Words”: Writing FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Flying High.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved the music of language. There’s something refreshing about the brevity and emotional impact of poetry. As a storyteller and a poet, I have learned to embrace what I call “first words” – the first words that come to mind when I’m working on a new book.

These words could end up any place in my manuscript, not necessarily at the beginning. And I might tweak and refine the words over time. But it’s an important part of my writing process to get those first words down on paper because they give me a starting place. This is why I always have a notepad nearby!

Often what happens for me is that I spend time doing research and thinking deeply about a person or topic I love, and eventually first words emerge. It could take two weeks or two months. Whenever it happens, my job is to capture the words and follow the muse.

For my latest picture book biography, FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, I researched Simone’s life for several months. As a young child, Simone was nimble, energetic, and always moving. She loved jumping on a trampoline and the feeling of flying that came with it. One night I woke up with these words:

Tip, top, trampoline,

jump toward the sky.

One little girl wants

to fly, fly, fly.

I grabbed the notepad on my nightstand, scribbled the words down, and went back to sleep. That stanza helped me establish the tone, rhythm, and structure of my book. My goal was to celebrate Simone Biles’ beauty, talent, and passion for gymnastics in a spare, poetic way. I admire how she overcame challenges and followed her dreams with courage and grace.

In leading writing workshops with students, I have often encouraged them to engage in activities that could prompt “first words” and see where it leads. It can be as simple as reading a brief description or looking at a picture – and then using all of the senses as you think about how it makes you feel. What imagery and words come to mind and how can you build on that? Those first words just might be the start of a book.

It is an honor to share Simone’s story in an accessible way that young children can understand. From her athletic childhood to the height of her success as an Olympic champion, FLYING HIGH is the story of the world’s greatest gymnast!

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows is the author of 10 books for children – with more on the way. She loves telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in her work. Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. She is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle’s writing process involves paper, pens, and lots of cookies. The beach is her favorite place to dream and write. The ocean, with its constant rhythm, is a wonderful reminder that there is hope, imagination, and possibility. Michelle lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband and son. Visit Michelle on the web:


  • This giveaway is for a copy of FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles. Many thanks to Macmillan for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, May 28th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name Stacey will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, June 4th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
    • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.
  • If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MEADOWS. Please respond to Stacey’s e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

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Congratulations to Tracy Mitchell whose commenter number was selected for this giveaway.

19 thoughts on “Embracing “First Words”: Writing FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles

  1. I love that the way you explained Stohs thinking/writing process. Simone’s story is amazing and I can’t wait to read this book!


  2. I have always loved reading about gymnastics, it’s one of my favourite sports and what you have shared about Simone makes her sound like a great role model for many young girls to aspire to. Also the part about waking up in the night to scribble a few words in your notebook, just so much the process of writing!


  3. It’s so important for our youngest writers to figure out a process that works for them. Your practice in discovering “first words” reminds me of a brainstorming technique. It’s a great strategy to share with kids. BTW – I’m going to age myself, but I was involved in gymnastics since I was eight years old… a few years before Olga hit the scene in the 72 Olympics, which was before Nadia. Simone is amazing!


  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your writing. I think it’s important to share authentic examples of this with our students. I’m looking forward to adding this book to our class library.


  5. Thank you for sharing your writing process using “first words.” I have had words pop into my head when I am in the sleep process. I learned to keep a notebook on my nightstand because I have lost those inspiring words. I have always been a fan of gymnastics, and I have seen Simone in action. I will be adding your book to my library.


  6. I love the message “first words” sends to young writers – get your ideas down on paper. It’s ok to revise, not keeping these first words first… but it’s a place to begin. I’m sharing this with my second graders (who are also in the midst of writing poetry now).


  7. Thank you for sharing your thinking and motivation to tell stories with “heart.” I know this book will bring smiles to the faces of MANY young girls who want to fly, jump, sing, run, play football….or whatever!


  8. Thank you for sharing your thinking process and your writing process. This is an amazing tool to support the young authors during the writing instruction.


  9. Thank you for sharing you writing process, Michelle! The idea of keeping a notebook nearby to get started is such a great idea for writers. I can’t wait to read your book!


  10. Michelle, so wonderful to hear about the process of how the rhythm of words came to you and how you wrote it down right away. Our young authors will enjoy hearing about this as well reading your beautiful book.


  11. Thanks for this post. So often words come to us in visions we need to pay attention to. What a wonderful vision of Simone Biles on a trampoline. I have a student who is very good at gymnastics (and writing). She will adore this book.


  12. I love that the language used to describe Simone Biles has to be precise and pointed in order for readers to really understand who she is (such a great mentor for writing, too). What a masterful job – in just this short excerpt, she is embodied beautifully – and I can’t wait to get my hands on this book for students! Also love how your bio includes your writing process:)


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