Kids discover their inner BRAVE in Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo’s http://www.jzulferr.com/ award-winning middle grade books.
In her first novel, Ruby in the Sky, Ruby has just moved to Vermont and she tries hard to be invisible, especially after her mom is arrested. But that isn’t possible when Ahmad Saleem, a Syrian Refugee, declares he’s her best friend and when Ruby’s elderly neighbor, Abigail, reaches out to her. As Ruby’s mother’s trial date draws near, Abigail is about to be evicted. Will Ruby find the courage to speak out to protect those she loves?
Jeanne’s newest book, A Galaxy of Sea Stars, was released in February 2020. Izzy’s whole world has shifted since her dad returned from the war in Afghanistan. Her family lost their home when Dad could no longer fish and they moved into the marina that he’s running instead. Except Izzy’s mom didn’t move in with them. Izzy wants to forget all about the war, but she can’t when an Afghan family her dad knew overseas moves into the marina’s upstairs apartment. Their daughter Sitara is Izzy’s age and Izzy’s life-long friends make fun of Sitara’s hijab and refusal to eat cafeteria food. As Izzy comes to admire Sitara’s bravery, she is forced to choose between her forever friends and standing up for Sitara.
Jeanne, I invited you to my blog because I admired your writing, but after learning more about you, I admire you so much more. Before becoming an author, you had a career as a public defender. Can you tell us what your role was? How has that experience influenced your writing?
You’ve said that your volunteer work with the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services was your inspiration for A Galaxy of Sea Stars. You interviewed a number of young women there and they helped you in crafting Sitara’s character. Tell us more!
The immigrant experience is close to your heart, since you are the granddaughter of immigrants; how did that inform your writing?
Have you drawn on other aspects of your life to create these stories?
Why are you drawn to writing about girls who struggle to find courage?
Probably because it has never been something that has come easy for me. In my books, I like to remind kids that courage might come in lots of different shapes and sizes, but it’s inside each one of us. The important thing is to find your own kind of brave.
What has your writing journey been like? Were you able to publish the first book you wrote? What was your revision process? How long did it take you to find an agent? Have you been helped by being part of a writing community?
I’ll try to give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version of a long answer! The first book I wrote was called Listening in the Snow, and no, it will never be published. I struggled to write that book and in fact quit writing altogether over its demise. But I think as artists, we can’t stay away from the things we love, so when I was ready, I eventually put pen to paper and began all over again with the line, “Sometimes people disappear…” which became the first words to Ruby in the Sky. As our good friend Lynda Mullaly Hunt has said, “the people who get published are the ones who don’t give up.” Lynda’s words really stuck with me and inspired me to persist. I eventually met my agent, the wonderful Stacey Glick, with Dystel Goderich and Bourret, through PitchWars. Stacey sold Ruby to my editor Janine O’Malley, at Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan. I’ve gone on to do two more books with FSG and (fingers crossed) will do many more! Of course, the writing community is instrumental in any writer’s success. I can confidently say that I would have never been published without the help the many friends I’ve met through NE-SCBWI!
(To access the phenomenal community that the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators offers, go to www.scbwi.org )
If it happens in my books, I’ve done it, witnessed it, or both! I’ve snowshoed, got my boat license, experienced a middle school news production, measured Charlestown Pond with a knotted string and fishing weight, drove a boat through the breachway, and enjoyed a melmastiyâ feast. For my next book, Each of Us a Universe, I learned to rock climb (the steep stuff!) with ropes and a belay device, and even scaled a rock face at Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont. This kind of “active research” is my very favorite part of each book!
You’ve also taught English in Slovakia and worked on Capitol Hill. Did either of these experiences plant seeds for future stories? What can we expect from you in the future?
Working on Capitol Hill showed me the power of the spoken word. I was lucky enough to witness many powerful and persuasive speeches on behalf of issues I care deeply about such as poverty, homelessness, equality and justice. I had the privilege of working for U.S. Congressman Sam Gejdenson (D-CT) who fought for these things and was one of the first members of Congress to push for Universal Healthcare legislation. That experience constantly reminds me of the importance of speaking up and fighting for issues you care about.
I’m also currently working on a historical fiction set in Communist Czechoslovakia, inspired from my experience teaching English there.
Thank you so much for being my guest. I’m so glad that I had this opportunity to get to know you better and I can't wait to read Each of Us a Universe. To find out more about Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo and her books, visit http://www.jzulferr.com/.
Thank you, Linda!