NEW MG: Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully

Today, Smack Dab bloggers Holly Schindler and Darlene Beck Jacobson discuss Darlene's latest release, Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully - 

HS: Give us the elevator pitch.

DBJ: This novel in verse crystallizes a boy's worries about his father, who is MIA in Vietnam, and how his family, new best-friend, and a bully unexpectedly help him find the courage to do the right thing, not just the easy thing. 

HS: Why the novel in verse? Did you know from the get-go you’d do a novel-in-verse? Or as you wrote, did it become apparent it needed to be?

DBJ: The main character – JACK – spoke to me in a stream-of-consciousness style, no frills just raw and bare emotions and thoughts spilled onto the page as he told me his story. Free verse seemed the perfect format for that.

HS: You’ve written historical fiction before. This time, though, the “historical” is a lot closer to all of us adult writers! How did the drafting of two books compare, in terms of making a bygone time feel real to young readers?

DBJ: The first book – WHEELS OF CHANGE – involved a lot of research online and to historical sites to get the feel of the 1908 Washington, DC setting. WISHES is set in 1964, which required me to channel my own childhood.  Recalling the era I grew up in came easy. I think that’s why the writing and revision was easier as well. Many of the things I enjoyed as an eleven year old are in the story.

HS: Poetry seems so intimidating to so many adults! Do you think the same is true of younger kids? Or do you feel that they connect easier to poetry? How so?

DBJ: I think people might be intimidated about some of the “rules” of poetic forms. The free verse format is looser and allows for a freer structure and arrangement of words and phrases on the page. Once you accept that poetry and verse doesn’t have to rhyme, but needs rhythm, it’s fun to try. The various forms of figurative language help provide that rhythm. I think kids are open to that.

HS: Full disclosure: you and I bounced some ideas back and forth a bit as you were in the revision mode. I actually love the revision process, but some writers prefer the first draft. How about you? What’s your favorite part?

DBJ: I love when the idea springs fresh from the imagination and there’s a strong voice to propel it forward. A voice like Jacks, which never wavered or quieted, until I got the story right. That was a first for me. Usually I have an idea, concept, basic storyline, that I fill in with characters and details. For me, that is a much harder format to sustain through a first draft. Give me a character with a strong and determined voice and I’ll run with it. It makes everything from first draft to revisions so much easier.

HS: What does poetry allow you to do that prose can’t—and vice versa? What did you find liberating about a novel-in-verse? What did you find confining?

DBJ: The novel-in-verse format really gets to the heart of the matter. It allows the characters to bring conflict/worries/problems out into the open without a lot of scene setting and back story. Dialogue doesn’t have to be in quotes, and words are laid out in unusual ways on the page. For me that was liberating, rather than confining.

HS: What’s next?

SBJ: I am in the early stages of a middle grade contemporary novel in verse.

HS: Favorite passage / poem from WISHES?

DBJ: There were a few, but this one really resonated with me, and I think it would with kids as well:

When I was Katy’s age, I used to be
afraid of the dark.
Shadows on the wall from cars passing by,
flashing headlights
sounds of the night
made me bury my face under the covers.

I imagined all the scary things I couldn’t see,
waiting to get me
if I wasn’t watchful. One night,
I woke up crying after a nightmare,
screaming for the monsters to go away.

Mom and Dad rushed into the room. Dad pulled
me onto his lap, rocking me
until I stopped crying.
He asked me where
the scary places were. As I pointed out each one,
he pointed a flashlight beam on it.
This is what it looks like
in the light, he said. No matter how many times
we turn off the light, it doesn’t change. He
handed the light to me and
told me to shine it wherever I thought
the scary things were. I moved the beam in all
the corners
under the bed
inside the closet
behind the door
flicking it on and off until I was satisfied.

Then Dad said,
remember in the dark what you learn in the light.

The dark doesn’t scare me anymore,
but sometimes,
times like this,
it makes me sad.

Thanks for having me on the blog Holly. I really enjoyed talking about WISHES, DARES AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY and hope readers did as well.

Darlene Beck Jacobson is a former teacher and speech therapist who has loved writing since she was a girl.  She is also a lover of history and can often be found mining dusty closets and drawers in search of skeletons from her past. She enjoys adding these bits of her ancestry to stories such as her award-winning middle grade historical novel WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston 2014) and WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020).
                Darlene lives and writes her stories in New Jersey with her family and a house full of dust bunnies. She’s caught many fish, but has never asked one to grant her a wish. She’s a firm believer in wishes coming true, so she tries to be careful what she wishes for.
                Her blog features recipes, activities, crafts, articles on nature, book reviews, and interviews with children’s book authors and illustrators.
Twitter: @DBeckJacobson

ISBN: 978-1-939547-62-0

Some reviews:
Uniquely original and with an important underlying social message for children ages 8-12, "Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully" is especially and unreservedly recommended for elementary school, middle school, and community library General Fiction collections.   

To see previous post in tour: APRIL 7 (BOOK BIRTHDAY)

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  1. It's such an exciting feeling when a character won't leave you alone and you just have to write their story. I'm sure a lot of kids with parents deployed (or heaven forbid, missing) can relate to this. Congratulations on your book birthday, Darlene!


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