Friend Friday

I clearly remember meeting Jennifer Jacobson on a crowded exhibition hall floor during a conference. I think we literally bumped into each other! Within minutes, I was privileged to get a sneak peek at the F&Gs of her then-forthcoming picture book, This is My Room (No Tigers Allowed) (she was my Friend Friday for that; check that post out here). Because I am such a huge fan of early chapter books, I am thrilled to shine the spotlight on the first two books of her brand new series: Twig and Turtle: Big Move to a Tiny House, and Twig and Turtle: Toy Store Trouble, both illustrated by Paula Franco (Pixel+Ink). I adore these sister stories and am confident you will, too.

Jennifer Jacobson

As a child, my very favorite place to play was in the VW camper parked in my neighbors’ driveway. It had a folding table, a tiny little sink, and a pop-up tent that provided coveted sleeping space. It was the perfect playhouse for imagining meaningful connections and grand adventures. Those who know me well, know that I still get a pang in my heart anytime I sight a Westfalia. Sigh.

I’m still drawn to small spaces. So, it’s not surprising that I found a way to continue this play with a new chapter book series about sisters, Twig and Turtle, who live with their parents (a comic book artist and a photographer) in a tiny house. The family has made a conscious decision to live a simpler life – one that allows them to pursue their passions and live more lightly on this earth.

I knew I would love the creative problem-solving this setting provides. What limits would need to be placed on material possessions? (Many people prescribe to the rule that if one new thing comes in, something old must go out. But what if someone gives you a gift?) And how do families manage alone-time, noise reduction, clutter, and overnight visitors? The tiny house life can offer many gains (family togetherness, a closer connection to community and nature, inventiveness and creativity) but it provides lots of practice in letting go. I enjoy examining these conflicts and the humor they provide.

What I didn’t realize when I started this series, is that the shorter book format (ten chapters, 10,000 words) would be another way of examining limited space. It had been a while since I’d written books of this length. (The Dollar Kids, my most recent upper middle grade was nearly double the word count.) Now I had the challenge of writing satisfying stories for those just transitioning into middle grade. How much could I put in? What did I need to leave out?  

Like most of us, I drag a considerable amount of fear into a new project. More than anything, I didn’t want to write formulaically. And although I can capitalize on a funny moment when I see one, no one would describe me as comedic. My jokes were not going to carry the day.  

So why choose this format? As a parent and former teacher of chapter-book readers, I knew in my bones that kids aged 7-9 are serious thinkers. They give a lot of thought to who they are and how they want to be in this world. I wanted these books to reflect their very real feelings about age-appropriate themes. (And provide lots of fun at the same time.)

Turns out, I’ve loved the challenge of writing these stories. In the first four books, I have found ways to write about inclusion, collaboration, gender stereotypes, the balance between independence and community, the importance of communicating our thoughts and feelings and being true to ourselves. Young readers carry big questions and chapter books have words enough to explore those questions with respect and heart.

Maybe someday I’ll own a camper. But right now, I’m as happy as an eight-year-old, playing with small spaces, but living large.

Jennifer, a graduate of Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the author of over a dozen award-winning children’s books including Small as an Elephant (IRA Young Adult’s Choice, Parents’ Choice Gold Award), Paper Things (ILA Social Justice Award, NTCE Charlotte Huck Honorable Mention)and The Dollar Kids illustrated by Ryan Andrews (ABA IndieNext List and Bank Street Best Book of the Year).  Her latest picture book, This is MY Room (No Tigers Allowed), released in 2019.  In addition to writing for children, Jennifer is an instructor at The Highlights Foundation, a school literacy consultant, and a writing coach. She lives with her husband and Jack Russell terrier in Woolwich, Maine.