Jacqueline Jules

Jacqueline Jules is an award winning author and poet. Among her many children’s titles are No English, Duck for Turkey Day, and Unite or Die, Sarah Laughs, and Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, all recognized by the Sydney Taylor Award, and Freddie Ramos Takes Off, a Bank Street College of Education Best Books of the Year.

Her latest book, What a Way to Start a New Year, is more than a Rosh Hashanah story. It explores a family’s move to a new town and starting over there—difficult at any time of the year, but especially so at holiday time. I recently spoke with Jacqueline about her writing.

You write an interesting mix of series fiction, picture books with a religious theme, & history.

I guess you could say I’m eclectic. It has to do with being a former school librarian, always dealing with a variety of topics and information, always finding things for my teachers and students. I collect information; I have a passion for it, even if it’s something I’m not particularly interested in. Many things fascinate me and I’m inspired by what I saw in schools, in the teachers and the kids.

You work ethnicity in your writing—Duck for Turkey Day, Freddie Ramos, and No English are multicultural titles.

The stories come from real life, from my experiences in my Title I school. No English is based on a girl who spoke no English. She would come into the library, shake her head, and say “No English.” I couldn’t write about if from my own experience of not speaking English, but I could write about it from the perspective of someone reaching out to be her friend. I loved having her start making friends while in the library!

Zapato Power is an easy chapter series. How did that come about?

The boys in school were always asking for books about superheroes. Most were longer texts and above their reading level, so Freddie was born! He is a mix of boys at my school: boys from military or one-parent families, boys in low income families, boys who are bilingual. Speed is important to boys, so I gave him the power of super speed. All kids have sneakers; Freddie’s are special. I’m pleased with how well the books have been received; they are showing up on Summer Reading Lists and lists of books supporting military families, including the Library of Congress’. A fifth Zapato Power book will be out next spring.

Your books are well received—several have won awards. Does being a librarian influence what or how you write?

Definitely, I was well versed in what was out there—or not out there! I knew what my students and teachers were looking for that they couldn’t find.

The joy of my job as school librarian was story time. I had to choose a book I liked; I was very picky about what I read aloud. It had to engage me; I needed to feel a connection to it. I like books with rich language because beautiful language leads to images. It was great training for being a writer. It made me want to create the very thing I love. When I write, I am cognizant of the interactive quality of the book. I love the storytelling tradition of repetition and work it into my writing. “Zoom Zoom Zapato” is an example of that. In my new book, “What a way to start a new year” is actually a refrain in the story.

Tell me a little about What a Way to Start a New Year. Did you start with story idea (new beginnings) or wanting to write a holiday story (Rosh Hashanah)?

It’s a story about a family who has just moved and one thing after another goes wrong. Being a holiday accents that.

It’s actually one of the first stories I wrote, maybe in 1989. It shows the power of persistence! It was sparked by the idea of moving just before a major holiday and it’s as much about the adjustment of moving as it is about the holiday. Being invited and welcomed by a family through the synagogue helps that adjustment. It wasn’t long enough for the chapter book I envisioned. I took it out and rewrote it every couple years.

Growing up, I lived in a small town. My father was on the look out at synagogue for new people; he would invite them to dinner and we’d have wonderful new friends. There’s something warm and welcoming about going to synagogue (or church). There is a familiarity with the songs and prayers, but the people aren’t the same. I took much of the story from my own memory, my life as a child and the way my parents were. It’s set in the synagogue I grew up in. I didn’t have to do much research for it—just the apple vs. honey cake, parts of the holiday meal.

Things tend to go wrong when you move, so I had the family be locked out, get a flat tire, spill juice—all everyday happenings that readers can relate to. We all adjust to new situations and circumstances. Rosh Hashanah tends to come at the beginning of the school year, so that adds a universal aspect to the book.

Is the book dedicated to your father?

No, I dedicated it to my mother! My father did the inviting, but it was my mother who was the gracious hostess and wonderful cook. Since the book ends with everyone enjoying dinner, I thought it should be dedicated to my Mom. In the Afternote, I mention my father’s habit.

Explore the difference between writing a religious themed picture book and your Zapato Power series.  Is there any?

I like to entertain in my books; the Zapato Power books are funny, but there is some depth in the stories.
Many religious books only inform. My Bible storybooks are more serious than my other picture books. I used Midrash, Jewish parables, in telling the Bible stories, to flesh them out. I strove for words to evoke images and to bring emotional resonance to each story. I love to play with words. When I rewrite I try to say the same thing only better. It’s like the first drafts are in black and white, then I color in the detail and depth with words. It’s powerful and fun!

A Selective Bibliography of Books by Jacqueline Jules

Benjamin and the Silver Goblet

Jacqueline Jules

Illustrated by Natascia Ugliano

What happens to younger brothers? Retelling the emotional climax of Joseph’s story from the angle of the naive youngest creates a new focus and arouses tender feelings. Benjamin does not understand why he cannot go to Egypt. His brothers return home with grain and without Simon, in jail pending proof they are not spies. This proof is Benjamin; they must return to Egypt with him. Benjamin is on a great lark until he overhears his brothers discussing their punishment for hurting Joseph. Now Benjamin is scared. In Egypt, the great manager, thrilled with him, hosts a banquet. Returning home, they are stopped for stealing a silver goblet discovered in Benjamin’s bag. The brothers’ offers to sacrifice themselves instead drive Joseph to a tearful declaration of identity. Remorse, repentance and love merge in this familiar, dramatic tale. Benjamin is as innocent as the targeted readers; his voice stirs immediate interest and empathy in the picture book crowd. Author Jules retells the Bible story with peppy dialogue exposing brotherly rivalry and love. Young readers discover the devastating secret when Benjamin does. They share Benjamin’s tension-filled duality: fear of abandonment alternating with security from doting protectiveness. The plot rests on brotherly declamations from JPS’s translation of Tanach, with the order of some statements rearranged to include Benjamin. The art gives each brother his own individuality. Active scenes in muted earth tones mimic the warmth and depth of the story. One small error: Joseph eats at the banquet with his brothers when Genesis (44:32) says he did not. Despite this, the text is so engaging, the characters so involving, the volume, with its three-hanky ending, is highly recommended. 2009, Kar-Ben/Lerner, Ages 6 to 10, $17.95.

REVIEWER: Ellen G. Cole (Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter).

ISBN: 9780822587576

Duck for Turkey Day

Jacqueline Jules

Illustrated by Kathyrn Mitter

Tuyet’s class is getting ready for the Thanksgiving holiday and their vacation from school. They have been working hard creating turkeys to bring home and share with their families over the holiday. There’s a problem though- Tuyet’s family is Vietnamese and they have duck for Thanksgiving- not turkey! After the holiday Tuyet learns of her classmates and their different traditions and holiday meals they celebrated. Even though all of the students celebrated with different meals and traditions, they all shared one thing in common- family! This warm multicultural story shows children that many families share the same American holidays but many have different family traditions and that is okay! 2009, Albert Whitman, Ages 5 to 9., $16.99.

REVIEWER: Kristen McClurg (Kutztown University Book Review,).

ISBN: 9780807517345

Miriam in the Desert

Jacqueline Jules ;
illustrated by Natascia Ugliano

A Bible legend comes to life in Jacqueline Jules’s lovely tale of Miriam, sister of Moses and wise woman of her people. Miriam is the loving grandmother of Bezalel, who tells the story. As the Israelites trek (and complain) through the wilderness, Bezalel draws pictures in the sand illustrating miracles such as manna and Miriam’s well. At the climax of the story, Bezalel’s great-uncle, Moses, climbs the mountain to receive God’s laws. Where will these Ten Commandments be kept? In a place that is “safe and beautiful.” Bezalel has been chosen to craft this Holy Ark. Jules retells this legend about Miriam and Bezalel in poetic and evocative language. Young children will be eager to join in the refrain: “Miracles, miracles / praise God’s might! / We see miracles / day and night.” In the author’s note, Jules cites the sources she used, including books by Steinsaltz, Telushkin, Frankel, and Ginzberg. Natascia Ugliano’s bright illustrations in pencil and pastels complement the story and give movement and expression to the Israelites. Why, even the birds and animals have character! Ugliano has illustrated four of Jules’s books, a collaboration that this reviewer hopes will continue. RecoAges 5 to 9, mmended for school and synagogue libraries. 2010, Kar-Ben, $17.95.

REVIEWER: Anne Dublin (Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter).

ISBN: 9780761344940

No English

Jacqueline Jules
illustrations by Amy Huntington

Recently arrived from Argentina, Blanca keeps saying “no English” when someone tries to talk with her. When the girl leaves for her ESL class, the teacher guides the other second graders to better understand Blanca’s feelings of loneliness and isolation. Soon the children are learning about Argentina and trying to say Spanish words. Several days later, though, a substitute sends the first-person narrator and Blanca to the office for giggling and drawing (their only means of communication). The girls discover that their developing friendship helps them weather the ordeal. The story is especially strong in its portrayal of two youngsters being curious about and helping one another rather than showing the child of the dominant culture being the only one to provide assistance. 2007, Mitten Press, Ages 4 to 8, $17.95.

REVIEWER: Mary Quattlebaum (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781587264740

Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation

Jacqueline Jules
illustrated by Jef Czekaj

The abandonment of the Articles of Confederation in favor of a federal Constitution probably ranks among the more soporific U.S. history topics, particularly for grade-school students. Jules gives it a surprisingly engaging twist in this picture-book treatment, which features a cast of schoolkids putting on a play in which the arguments for and against adopting a Constitution and the details of equitable representation and individual rights are hashed out in kid-friendly dialogue: “My citizens are just as important as yours!” “We’re not going to let you big states bully us!” The cartoon players sport a Simpsons-style wide-eyed and gape-mouthed zaniness that should keep even middle-schoolers amused, and even the homemade costuming and onstage antics offer hints of individual state positions on various issues Rhode Island, absent from the Constitutional Convention, is asleep on the boards, while Virginia agonizes over whether she is primarily a Virginian or an American, and the Garden State of New Jersey balances a flower pot on her head. An afterword supplies extra commentary on the process and document, and notes in Q & A format refer to pages in the text where a little extra elucidation is in order. A bibliography of children’s materials is appended, and a national archives URL is included with an encouraging “Read the Constitution for yourself!” Review Code: R — Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2009, Charlesbridge, Grades 3-6, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).

ISBN: 9781580891899

What a Way to Start a New Year!: A Rosh Hashanah Story

Jacqueline Jules

Illustrated by Judy Stead

As Jules states in her author’s note, “Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, a time when families and friends celebrate with traditional meals of round challah, apples with honey, brisket, and honey or apple cake.” But in What a Way to Start a New Year!, the narrator finds she has to learn to celebrate the New Year in a new home in a new city, far away from the comforts of Rosh Hashanahs past. In an attempt to celebrate with their old neighbors and friends, the family tries to pile into the family car and make the drive to the familiar place. But it seems that everything is keeping their family from getting there, from the baby’s dirty diaper to forgotten keys and even a flat tire. And with every set back, someone in the family is quick to disappointedly exclaim: “What a way to start a new year!” But their new community is eager with invitations, to synagogue and dinner, leaving the family feel welcome and accepted in this new place. Jules’s relatable story, coupled with Stead’s vibrant illustrations will enthrall readers and listeners alike. This book will serve as a good addition to any holiday library or collection. 2013, Kar-Ben Publishing/Lerner, Ages 4 to 8, $7.95.

REVIEWER: Anne Pechnyo (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780761381774

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off

Jacqueline Jules

Art by Miguel Benaitez

Freddie Ramos returns home to find a strange package on his doorstep. Inside are purple, winged sneakers that make him run at the speed of light! Dreaming of becoming the ultimate superhero, Freddie uses the sneakers’ Zapato Power to help kids at his elementary school. In the meantime, however, some strange mysteries arise. When Freddie discovers graffiti on the walls of his apartment complex, he wonders who would do such a thing. In addition, one question remains at the top of Freddie’s mind throughout the story: who sent him the sneakers in the first place? Freddie is able to use his magic sneakers to solve the mysteries and save the day. Jules creates an adventurous young individual in Freddie Ramos. Freddie’s late father was a war hero in Iraq, and this brave personality is reflected in Freddie himself. Freddie’s magic sneakers add an imaginative element to his life, allowing him to take his adventures to the next level. Supplementing Jules’s story is the art of Miguel Benitez, whose inked drawings provide a backdrop to help readers picture the story. Also, Freddie’s Spanish heritage enriches the story and allows children to learn a little Spanish as they read. Combining these elements together, Jules has written a book that has enough intrigue to keep kids engaged and curious for more. Luckily, Jules continues the series with Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Springs into Action, so readers fascinated with her books will be able to follow Freddie on more adventures. 2010, Albert Whitman & Company, Ages 6 to 9, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Adam Keister (Kutztown University Book Review).

ISBN: 9780807594803

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue

Jacqueline Jules
Illustrated by Miguel Benitez

Most boys dream of being a superhero, but Freddie Ramos really is. In the third book of the “Zapato Power” series, Freddie is still looking for ways to be a superhero, maybe because his deceased dad was a hero in the army. When Freddie receives goggles in the mail, he thinks they are a part of his superhero costume like his purple zapatos and his wristband. He hopes they will hide his identity and he eventually finds out that they are a gift from his uncle and for summer camp. The arrival of a purple squirrel at school gives Freddie the chance to be a superhero when he realizes that the principal, Mrs. Connor is afraid of squirrels. While following the purple squirrel, Freddie gets a second chance to be a superhero when a tree falls across the train tracks minutes before his mom’s train is to arrive. As in the title of the series, interspersed throughout the story are winks to Freddie’s Hispanic heritage–fantastico, rapido, Uncle Jorge. The black and white illustrations are just frequent enough to help imaginations picture the story. 2011, Albert Whitman & Company, $14.99. Ages 6 to 9.

REVIEWER: Larnette Snow (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780807594827

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