Hello, Darlene Beck Jacobson! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. What have you been up to since the last time you visited on December 23, 2014?

Darlene Beck Jacobson: Hello, Mr. Schu! I am so excited to have a chance to chat with you again. It’s been too long for sure. When I first visited WATCH, CONNECT, READ back in 2014, I’d just released my first novel WHEELS OF CHANGE (WOC) from Creston Books. It was an MG historical set in 1908 Washington, DC.

Right after that, I had the pleasure of attending my first ALA Conference in January 2015 where I also had the pleasure of meeting you face to face!

That was a fun meeting! I believe we were in Chicago. 

WOC was chosen as a Notable Social Studies Trade Book in 2015, was a Mighty Girl pick that same year and an Honorable Mention for the first Grateful American Book Prize in 2015. It was a thrill to see the book so well received. And, it was fun to share the book in classrooms in person and via Skype.

As with many new writers, I thought my second book would soon follow. I wrote a number of manuscripts, everything from picture books, chapter books, a couple non-fiction historical picture books, and another historical novel. For one reason or another, none of them was quite right to make it all the way to publication.

It was frustrating and at times discouraging. But I kept writing anyway, because the ideas kept coming.

In the summer of 2018, my wish for a second book finally came true. WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY was sold to Creston Books in December 2018.

Eleven year old Jack misses his Dad who is MIA in Vietnam. It’s been months since he and his family had word of his whereabouts. The last thing Jack wants to do is spend summer with his grandparents. Mom believes it will be good for them all – Jack, his sister Katy, Mom, Gran and Pops – to be together while they wait for word about Dad. Keeping busy will keep them out of trouble and help them think of other things.

Jack expects the worst summer of his life. The first summer without. Without Dad, without friends, without his room and all the things that remind him of Dad. When Jack meets a girl named Jill - a girl with a brother who makes trouble for both of them – things they believe are turned upside down. Welcome to a summer of fishing, camping, bullies, and a fish who grants wishes. A fish that could be the answer to Jack’s problem. But when Jill makes wishes of her own, things don’t turn out the way they expected. Every wish has a consequence.

Will the fish grant Jack’s biggest wish? Will Jack be brave enough to ask?

Thank you for the wonderful update! Congratulations on Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully

Did you know right away you would write it as a novel in verse?

Darlene Beck Jacobson: Thanks Mr. Schu. I love this question! The idea for Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully came to me in a dream, or rather the twilight between dreaming and full wakefulness, that moment when you’re not quite ready to jump out of bed. I am not a person who usually remembers dreams. But, on one particular morning in late spring in 2018, I awoke with the name JACK and a number of words circling around my thoughts like a mantra. The more these words circled, the more they took shape and began shouting at me. Demanding that I listen.

“Here’s the title!” “Here’s the premise…of a boy missing his father who is at war.” “This is how you’re going to write Jack’s story –in free verse”

I repeated these words, phrases, titles, demands, like a song I wanted to memorize so I wouldn’t forget.

Before I headed to the shower, before I ate, before I did anything in my normal morning routine, I raced out of bed, grabbed a notebook and pencil, and wrote down everything circling in my brain. Pages and pages filled the notebook. Several pages later, when I felt relief that I hadn’t lost this dream – this gift every writer hopes for – I breathed a sigh and began my day.

Usually, when it comes to plotting a novel, I struggle with getting it all to come out the way I envision. I have a strong beginning and knowledge of how I expect it to end. It's what comes in between that throws me for a loop. I'll write down possible scenes, things the character(s) need to do or potential conflicts that could arise. Most of the plot ideas that end up staying in the story are ones that I discovered after many revisions.

I expect there are many of us out there with this same kind of problem.

For WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY, plotting was a totally different animal. The main character Jack spoke to me in a voice so loud and clear. He was insistent that I tell his story the way he spoke it, which turned out to be free verse. So, instead of plotting what might happen, I began to compile a list of words that would spark a conversation between Jack and me. HOPE. FEAR. LOST. DARK.

Each day I'd sit down with the list, choose a word and let Jack tell me his thoughts on it. The list expanded as we got further into the story, but that list is the plot, sure and true. Every crossed out word is a poem in the story. 

Out of all the manuscripts I’ve written, none has been more joyful to write. I met Jack each day with a new word. He told me his story and I wrote it down, just as he spoke it. The muse from my dream was the voice of an eleven year old boy.

It sounds like a magical experience. Thank you for sharing it. 

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Jack is sad, angry, upset, hurting, and missing his father more than he realizes. His emotions have taken over his body and he’s raw and exposed. When Jack and I met each day to talk about what was happening in his life, I could only write a few poems at a time. His stream-of-consciousness voice would spill out onto the page. He held nothing back, just laying his feelings bare. I needed time in between our sessions to absorb his feelings and make them mine, to make them as real as I could so his story would be real as well.

It was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating. 

Jack is an amazing kid who feels deeply about so many things. I feel like I was given a divine gift to be trusted with telling his story. I hope I did him justice.

I hope Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully will be enjoyed by kids and grown-ups and used in classrooms as part of a discussion on how to stop bullying. Bullying transcends generations, but so does kindness and caring for one another.

One of the themes of the story is “Do the right thing, not the easy thing.”

If the book stimulates and encourages these kinds of discussions, that would be awesome.

My second hope is for kids who are scared, worried, or anxious because they have a parent serving in the military. A parent who is gone and away from home. I want these children to know that even though they are scared, they are not alone. It is okay to feel sad. It is okay to feel scared. They can talk about their feelings and share them with other family members, friends, teachers, and counselors. They can journal about their feelings or, like Jack did in the story, write poems about them. Sharing hard feelings in this way helps work through them.

Story is transformative. Healing. Inspiring. Powerful. Stories can divide us, but they also – more often, I believe - connect us to one another. They teach us that even though we come from different backgrounds and cultures, we are one.

We each have a unique story only we can tell. That’s a powerful thing we should all celebrate.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I would wish for if I had three wishes. You might think that’s an easy question to answer, but after all the unexpected things that happened after Jack and Jill made their wishes, it’s awfully tricky to get a wish exactly right. So much can go wrong.

One wish I think will be safe to make is the wish that teachers, students, and anyone wondering how to stand up to bullying will find some helpful ideas in the book and the curriculum materials from my website. Ideas that will start discussions and help brainstorm solutions on this important topic.

And, I wish for everyone’s unique story, everyone’s unique voice to be heard and acknowledged.

Thanks again for having me as your guest Mr. Schu. I hope we get to chat with each other again soon. Five years is too long to wait!

Yes! Thank you so much for celebrating Children's Book Week together!

Borrow Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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