Wednesday, February 22, 2023

My Name is Hamburger--Interview with Author Jacqueline Jules by Julie Phend



My Name is Hamburger

By Jacqueline Jules


Trudie Hamburger is the only Jewish kid living in the small town of Colburn, Virginia in 1962. Nobody else at her school has a father who speaks with a German accent or a last name that means chopped meat. Trudie doesn't want to be the girl who cries when Daniel Reynolds makes fun of her. Or the girl who hides in the library to avoid singing Christian songs in music class. She doesn't want to be different. But over the course of a few pivotal months, as Trudie confronts her fear and embraces what she loves--including things that make her different--she finally finds a way to say her name with pride.

Julie’s Review

I loved My Name is Hamburger, a middle grade verse novel published in October 2022 by Kar-Ben Publishing. Jacqueline Jules tells Trudie’s story in lyrical, impactful verse that puts us in Trudie's heart as she navigates a confusing year at her new school and emerges stronger for it.

I had the pleasure of interviewing author Jacqueline Jules about the book and her writing career.


Interview with Jacqueline Jules

Julie: You’ve written a lot of books for young people, many of them about Jewish life and culture. What’s new and different about this book?


Jacqueline: All my other books of Jewish interest are picture books written for younger children. I worked as an elementary school librarian in both public and religious settings. Story time was a big part of my job, and for many years I focused on capturing the attention of young listeners with books for adults to read aloud.

My Name is Hamburger is my first middle grade novel. It is a book for reading alone by students old enough to handle mature topics like self-esteem, bullying, and antisemitism. I am excited to share that My Name is Hamburger is a PJ Our Way Selection and was distributed to families through this program.


Julie: Though this story is set in the 1960s, the topic and issues seem relevant and timely for young people today. Can you comment on that?

Jacqueline: The main character, Trudie Hamburger, is intimidated by a bully and has misunderstandings with friends. Her family is both a source of comfort and embarrassment. She dreams of winning prizes and being admired. Many childhood emotions are universal in every generation.


Julie: You say the book was inspired by your own childhood. What are some of the parallels between your story and Trudie’s?

Jacqueline: My father was a Jewish German-speaking immigrant who came to the United States after World War II. We lived in a small Virginia town. Growing up, I experienced exclusion as a minority. But like Trudie, I also had friends and a strong relationship with my father. And like Trudie, I loved to sing, and I loved to read.


Julie: I love that the book is written in verse. It captures Trudie’s voice so well. I feel her need to prove herself, her hurt when she is teased or rejected, the conflicting feelings she has about how her religion makes her different. At the same time, the poems move the reader through the story with a compelling plotline. Can you comment on your decision to write in verse?


Jacqueline: Thank you for your kind words about Trudie’s voice in the poetry. My Name is Hamburger was originally written in prose. I went through many drafts and none of them quite worked until I began writing the story as a series of poems. At first, it was just an experiment, but as one poem followed another, the main character emerged to tell her story with a stronger, more authentic voice. I love to play with words. When I write, I arrange and rearrange words like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes I have to turn small, jagged pieces around and around until they fit together. I knew the plot elements of Trudie’s story so I knew what the picture should look like. Finding the words to make that picture clear to the reader was a bigger challenge. Poetry turned out to be the right format because it prompted me to use imagery to express Trudie’s emotions. Each poem focuses on a particular moment and uses metaphor to convey the meaning of that moment.

I never considered writing a novel in verse before My Name is Hamburger. In retrospect, it is surprising because poetry is my first love as a writer. I have well over a hundred poems in literary journals and anthologies. I am the author of three chapbooks and one full-length collection of poems for adults. My poetry collection for children, Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence, was published by Albert Whitman in 2020.       


Julie: Tell us about your publisher, Kar-Ben Publishing. Have you published with this press before?

Jacqueline: I have been a Kar-Ben author since 1998 with the publication of Once Upon a Shabbos. I have twenty books with Kar-Ben. They produce lovely titles and I feel lucky to have found them in the early stages of my career when it was easier to submit without an agent. Once I established a relationship with the editors, I was able to submit new manuscripts, which were luckily accepted.


Julie: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers about writing, publishing, or life?

Jacqueline: Publishing is a hard business. Perseverance is the key to success. There have been many times over the years when I felt discouraged, when I had to force myself to hold on to my dreams of a writing career. The following poem, “Tag Your Dreams” is the title poem of my book, Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence. It was written during a low period in my writing career when I worried that I would not sell another book. The poem was a pep talk to myself. Since I wrote this poem, I have sold twenty-five more books. Believe in yourself. Chase your dreams until you’re breathless.



by Jacqueline Jules


Play tag

with your dreams.

Chase them

till you’re breathless.


have strong legs,

but so do you.

Keep running,

with your arm out,

fingers reaching.

Don’t let them get away.



Thank you, Jacqueline, for sharing your inspiring story. 



Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of over fifty books for young readers including the Zapato Power series, the Sofia Martinez series, Duck for Turkey Day, Feathers for Peacock, Never Say a Mean Word Again, and The Porridge-Pot Goblin. Visit her website at








Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The CYBILS winners: Poetry and Verse Novel ~by Christy Mihaly

The Cybils Awards for 2022 books were announced on Feb. 14, 2023.  

Congratulations to the winners -- and to the finalists, and all the nominees. So many good books were nominated.

The Cybils Awards seek to recognize the books (and their creators) that best combine awesome writing and kid appeal. The goal is to make kids love reading! As one of the founders of this award said, "Between the brussels sprouts of literary merit and the gummy bears of popularity contests, we are the organic chicken nuggets -- both yummy and nutritious!"

I was honored to be a Round 2 Judge for the Cybils in the Poetry and Verse Novels categories, and I can't wait to tell you about the winners. (I know, by the way, some readers would quibble with the relative yumminess of  brussels versus gummies, but ... on with the show!)  

And the winners are:

Verse Novel

Wave by Diana Farid

Wave is everything a verse novel for young readers should be. In this novel by Diana Farid, illustrated by Kris Goto, first-generation Iranian-American Ava is caught between her mother’s expectations and her own love for surfing, singing, and friends (including a best friend dying of cancer). Prejudice, divorce, parental pressure, and grief are balanced beautifully by the brightness of poetry, mixtapes and music, and most of all friendship's bonds and the joy of riding the waves. This is historical fiction, based on the author's experiences growing up in Southern California in the 1980s.

Poems carry the story with language like this:
I fall with the song
into the hollow 
of the wave, 
as it covers me with its curl. 
We ride the barrel toward the light.

In addition, the narrative also features the ancient Persian poet Rumi and his poems are effectively woven into the book. With such poetry, Farid creates a moving novel that speaks to the universal theme of growing up while still being a story of one unique, captivating heroine. 


The 1619 Project: Born on the Water 
by Nikole Hannah-Jones & Renee Watson

In this powerful poetry collection/picture book, Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 project teams up with poet Renee Watson and illustrator Nikkolas Smith to tell a story that is at the heart of the American identity. When, in response to a school genealogy assignment, a young Black girl struggles to identify where her ancestors came from, her grandmother “gathers the whole family, says…let me tell you our beginning.” 

The poems Grandma recites use strong cadences and refrains to tell the story starting on African shores. She evokes the people in Central West Africa: “Their hands / Their hearts / Their minds had a knowing.” The poems follow the people's kidnapping and forced ocean crossing, on which

These many people 
became one people
a new people 

"born on the water." 

Once arrived in America, the people

planted prayers into the heavens
praying, praying, praying
for freedom. 

The poems use representative events, images, and motifs to carry the epic story -- “Ours is no immigration story” -- of the millions of Black people who kept on living despite being “brokenhearted, beaten and bruised,” and who built a legacy of joy, excellence, and resistance under inhuman conditions. Gorgeous illustrations enhance this moving work, conveying the violence of the story without being too graphic for the youngest audience.

If you haven't read these, I highly recommend them both.

And if you're looking for other great poetry and verse novels, below are the Cybils finalists in these categories. 

Happy reading!
Marshmallow Clouds, by Ted Kooser
& Connie Wanek, illustrated by Richard Jones

Poetry collections: 

Zoobilations, by Douglas Florian
My Name is Jason. Mine Too, 
by Jason Reynolds & Jason Griffin
(Re-release of their 2009 work)

At the Pond, by David Elliot, 
art by Amy Schimler-Safford

Novels in verse: 

African Town
by Irene Latham
and Charles Waters
by Katherine Applegate

Singing with Elephants
by Margarita Engle
The Hope of Elephants
by Amanda Rawson Hill


Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Mighty Kid Lit Hosted by Michele Ziemke

By Suzy Leopold

Welcome to the GROG Blog Michele Ziemke! 

Michele is a kidlit creator. She enjoys writing and illustrating children's literature. She is also the creator of the kidlit platform Mighty KidLit.


Hosted by Michele Ziemke and Percy the Mascot.



Mighty Kid Lit for authors and illustrators–published and pre-published. 

Six weeks ago Michele invited published and pre-published authors and

illustrators to become members of Mighty KidLit. Mighty Kid Lit continues

to welcome kidlit folks. This week the total reached 200 members.

The goal of Mighty Kid Lit is to create a supportive kidlit community for authors and illustrators at all levels of writing and illustrating experience. If you are new to creating children's literature or are a published author or illustrator this is a nurturing and caring community.

This free kidlit community offers:

  • Creativity Building

  • Book Launch and Birthday Parties

  • Critique groups for writers and illustrators

  • Art portfolios

  • Pitch perfect critique group

  • Picture book critique group

  • Middle-grade critique group

  • Chapter book critique group

  • Picture book deep dive--a book study every month
  • Resource page of picture books by Mighty Kid Lit members, including links to purchase and ISBN numbers to request from your local library
  • Mentorships to inspire developing talent while offering an avenue for published and agented authors and illustrators to give back. This week, seven members will be chosen for the first two-week mentorship from published authors and illustrators.
  • A bi-yearly showcase is in the planning stages. Literary agents and editors will be invited.

"It's like Twitter on steroids!" says Michele.

Illustrations created by Michele


Daily Digest posts; 24/7

Momentum Monday
Tickle Me Tuesday
Expert Wednesday
Writers Life Thursday
Fabulous Friday
Sharing Saturday

More events are coming soon! 


Join us at Mighty Kid Lit

Sharing an invite Notice as a referral from Michele and me. You may receive a redirect notice.

If you need further information please contact Suzy at


Michele believes, "Children’s literature has the power to change the world

one word at a time, building love, acceptance, and a sense of community

in young lives."

She continues, "I was given so much by the KidLit community, that I really wanted to give back. I believe we can create an awesome community with awesome writers and

illustrators who strive to be connected and strive to be more creative. 

It’s impossible to become creative overnight, and awesomeness never happens


Michele and Chole

Thank you, Michele, for your generosity in giving to the kidlit community by creating the Mighty Kid Lit platform. It's a great place where book creators can come together for support and opportunities to learn and grow. 

Percy, Michele, and I look forward to welcoming new members to Mighty Kid Lit. Let's read, write, and create together.

To find more information about Michele:

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Jannie Ho Talks Chickens and Art

by Sue Heavenrich

I was introduced to Jannie Ho through her Chickengirl comics. I love them – and there’s a whole alphabet’s worth.

And then I read her very funny book about a bear who finds a chicken frozen in the winter snow. Being a kind bear, he brings it home to thaw – I mean, warm up. As he’s waiting, Bear begins slicing and dicing. He tosses carrots and potatoes and a sprig of basil into a soup pot. A pot which, Chicken realizes (as he begins to wake up) is just the perfect size for a chicken! Bear wants company for lunch – but is Chicken the company? Or lunch?

She’s illustrated lots of books by other authors, including the new picture book, Mitzi and the Big Bad Nosy Wolf (written by Teresa Bateman and released last fall). It’s a small book about a big topic: digital citizenship. Mitzi is one smart lamb, and when a wolf asks for her personal information she refuses. But in a nice way: “Would you like to dance?” she asks. Maybe she can figure out how to escape while tiring the wolf out with the Charleston and the Tango. 

So I just had to ask Jannie a few questions about illustrating. 

Sue: Hi Jannie, and welcome to the GROG. I’ve noticed that even when Chicken is not a main character in a book, you’ve managed to sneak in a chicken somewhere. Do you put them in every book you illustrate? And what's with the chickens?

Jannie: Thanks for noticing! I do try to sneak in a chicken or so, but only if it works for the story. It doesn’t work for every single book, but I think it is fun for the reader to enjoy some “Easter eggs” in the illustrations. Whether it is a little bird in every spread, or some squirrels hiding in the bushes, my job is to create visual delight to the reader.

I actually get that question a lot- what’s with the chickens, ha ha! I don’t know when it started but I had a chicken alarm clock growing up that clucked when it went off. Perhaps it did something to me subliminally. Chickens are fun and I started drawing them in art school. They showed up a lot in my artwork and people started calling me “Chicken girl.” The name stuck with me ever since. 

Sue: Chicken story or not, what goes into your determination of how to portray characters (including secondary characters) in a book? Do you add gratuitous chicken characters to see if the art director is paying attention?

Jannie: A good art director is always paying attention! I don’t add random chicken characters for the sake of adding them for my own amusement. It must support or add to the story in some way. I enjoy creating animal characters and I love thinking about the personalities they represent.

Sue:  Please talk about the media do you use in creating your art.

Jannie: My picture book art is mostly digital. I use to hand sketch with paper/pencil and scan them in, and work digitally on top of it. But now I skip that step as it is more efficient to do the sketching directly on the computer, too. For my board and picture book art, they are mostly vector art created in Adobe Illustrator. My comic art, which has a different look and line art heavy, is created using Procreate on the iPad, with an Apple Pencil. So it is a mixture of all of these techniques I use when creating my art.

Sue: How do you (or do you) decide which projects to take on? What is it about a manuscript that grabs you and makes you know that "I have to illustrate this one"? And once you've taken on a project, what is your creative process?

Jannie: I absolutely love when a project comes my way and I know the art director or editor has been paying attention to what kind of art I enjoy doing and it just feels in sync. The best projects are the ones where there is an ease but also a good challenge to push outside of what I’ve been doing. The same sense of humor is really important to me too; I want to get what the author is trying to do, and vice versa!

The creative process- it is a little different for each project. I always like to explore the character designs first. Once I have the characters worked out, I like to explore the environment design further. For Mitzi and the Big Bad Nosy Wolf, for example, it takes place in the meadows and forest with lots of greenery. So I like to start looking and collecting references on Pinterest and also think about the color palette of the book. I usually do thumbnail sketches for the entire book, and then work on each spread individually later to refine the sketches. I like to hop around and can’t work chronologically, but it all ties together in the end!

Sue: Do you get feedback from authors on your illustrations? And does the art director ever ask you to revise something?

Jannie: I don’t get much feedback from the authors during the process; usually it is very minimal. I am happy when authors put their trust in me. I receive nice notes from authors when our books come out though! It is always a great feeling.  And I do get feedback from art directors and revisions are part of the process. I always appreciate great art direction to make the book even better.

Sue: I love Bear and Chicken. Do you have any more chicken adventures coming out? What books do you have coming out in 2023?

Jannie: Thank you! I have other chicken stories, but not the same chicken. Super Chicken and Shelly is regular comic feature that I write and illustrate in Highlights High Five magazine. So please do read their adventures there! Books that are coming out in 2023 are both graphic novels that I’m excited about. The Lost Mitten, written and illustrated by me, is an early reader graphic novel about a rabbit and a mouse that follows tracks in the snow to return a lost mitten. Fry Guys, written by Eric Geron and illustrated by me, will be about my other favorite thing to draw: anthropomorphic food!

Another book I’ve written and illustrated which is dear to my heart is a board book called Happy Chinese New Year, A Festive Counting Story. I’ve always wanted to write a book about my Chinese culture and this book took years in the making. It is about the Chinese zodiac animals getting ready for Chinese New Year and also a counting book that teaches the numbers in Mandarin Chinese. Funny enough, this book also has a chicken (rooster) in it!

Sue: And there’s still a few days of celebrating the New Year – so definitely time for folks to get a copy! Thank you, Jannie, and Happy Chinese New Year!

If you want to learn more about Jannie Ho and the books she writes, check out her website ( Here’s where you can find her on social media: