Many people choose to become a teacher because they want to make a difference. However, once these individuals are established in their profession, they often wonder if they can actually change their students’ lives. Most realize that they may never know the full extent of their efforts. Sometimes the results will be immediate and noted while other times the impact may take decades to take effect. Occasionally, I read about adults who attribute their success to one or more of their K-12 teachers. Michele Jakubowski, a children’s author, is one such example. Michele is a children’s author who is simultaneously writing two series- Perfectly Poppy and Sidney & Sydney.
Today, Michele will be sharing information about her background, her books, and a few writing tips.
Michele sent me copies of some of her books in exchange for this interview and an honest review. She is participating in a book giveaway. See below for details.
As an educator, I find it fascinating that you look back to the books that your teachers chose for classroom assignments as inspiration for your writing. Can you describe what grabbed your attention in Judy Blume’s books?
I can still remember Mrs. Skiff, my fourth grade teacher, reading us Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I couldn’t get enough! Looking back I think it was because the characters were so relatable yet just different enough that I was intrigued. I remember that Peter Hatcher, the main character, lived in an apartment in the city; as girl growing up in the suburbs that seemed so exotic. On the other hand Peter had troubles with his brother. What kid can’t relate to that? To this day my favorite reads include relatable, well-developed characters and I strive to create the same in my writing.
Subsequent teachers introduced you to a wide variety of literature. You single out a few authors in your bio. Did the assignments, discussions, and teachers’ feedback influence your writing or was it the authors’ words and voice?
When I wrote that bio I thought about books that, in my opinion, took me to the next level as both a reader and a writer. For example, I remember when Mr. Miller, my 7th grade teacher, encouraged me to read The Old Man and the Sea because he felt I was ready for it. That was such a compliment to me and it motivated me to branch out from the typical middle school reading list.
As I began writing I was definitely drawn to writers with strongly developed characters and voices. My favorites contain characters I missed and found myself thinking of long after I’d finished the book. This was the case for me with many of John Irving’s books.
After spending years analyzing fiction, can you share your top 5 elements of a sensational children’s story?
- Relatable. Even if the storyline is set in outer space, there needs to be something about it that the characters can relate to.
- Humorous. Children love to laugh and the sillier the better.
- Not preachy. While a central message is key, you never want the reader to feel that they are being spoken down to or lectured.
- Imaginative. While they may not think of it in those terms, kids love to read about things that get them thinking.
- Simplistic. I tend to do a lot of editing with my writing. I find that children don’t want to get bogged down in a lot of details. They are looking for a good story that is told well.
When you first started writing children’s books, how do you find your publisher, Picture Window Books?
I sent out many, many, many (and then a few more) query letters to publishers and literary agents. I received many rejections and had a few conversations with potential literary agents before receiving a wonderful response from Capstone (the parent company of Picture Window Books). I was so thrilled when I read the email that I couldn’t speak! My husband raced over to make sure I was OK. Needless to say, I was very OK. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with my publisher, especially Managing Editor Christianne Jones. She rocks.
Many authors incorporate true events into their fiction. Have your children’s experiences influenced your writing?
In more ways than they know! I’m constantly watching my kids and their friends to gather book material. I have a son and a daughter and the characters of Sidney and Sydney are loosely based on them.
Currently, you are writing two different series. Perfectly Poppy is targeted toward early readers while Sidney & Sydney is an easy chapter book. Why did you choose to write two series geared toward different reading levels?
While I went to my publisher with the idea for the Sidney & Sydney series, they came to me with Perfectly Poppy. They wanted me to write a series about a little girl that I like to describe as a ‘reluctant active person’ (aka lazy). All of the books in the Poppy series share a common theme of being active and making healthy choices, even if they are done reluctantly. It can be a challenge to switch reading levels but I like the change of pace.
What was the greatest challenge you faced creating an early reading series?
My greatest challenge was finding a publisher. I thank my lucky stars each day that I did!
How many books do you anticipate writing in this series? Is there a common theme that connects all of the books?
I’d love to keep writing Sidney & Sydney books as long as my publisher will continue to put them out! While the storylines vary, each book shows how the characters view and respond to the situations differently.
Writing for a third grade audience requires a special skill. In the Sidney and Sydney series, you incorporate a significant amount of dialogue and modern terms. What resources did you use to create a realistic storyline with an engaging dialogue?
I think the biggest resource I used was observation. I’m a people watcher and being around my children and the readers I visit during author visits helps me to keep the dialogue and storylines realistic.
My daughter, Mia, has also been an enormous help. I like to call her my first editor. She reads everything I write and will tell me if something doesn’t make sense to her or if the characters say something she’d never say in real life. Her input has been invaluable.
The format for the Sidney & Sydney series has the two main characters narrate in alternate chapters. An illustration at the start of each chapter cues the reader to the appropriate voice. Can you explain your rationale for creating a series that follows this style?
The whole idea for the Sidney & Sydney series came from my experiences reading with my children. I found that my daughter and son were both drawn to different book series and I wanted to create something to which they could both relate.
As I began writing I thought of how my children could view the same experience – a family outing or a movie we’d watched – very differently. I thought it would be interesting to hear two sides of the same story.
How many additional books are you planning to add to the Sidney & Sydney series and do you have any projected publication dates?
I’m hoping there are many more Sidney & Sydney books to come! I absolutely love writing them. Book 3, Big Dog Decisions is set for release on August 1, 2014.
Are you working on any other writing projects?
I am always working on something! Right now I have a couple of ideas that are in the brainstorming phase. I like to get to know the characters involved and their personalities before I place them into a scenario and start writing.
Is there anything that you would like to share with my audience?
Thank you for this opportunity! I love to chat with readers and other writers and can be reached at Michele@michelejakubowski.com or through my website www.michelejakubowski.com.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, July 13 will be eligible for a book giveaway. Michele will send the randomly selected winner an autographed copy of one of her books.
Question to the Readers of this Blog:
Do you remember a teacher who made a difference in your life? If so, leave a comment and be eligible for one of Michele’s books.