Guest Blog Post With Author Darlene Beck Jacobson

I had wanted to post this during Anti-bullying month in October, however, my fall and concussion kind of ruined my plans (more on that in my blog post next week)! In the beginning of the pandemic, my friend Darlene Beck Jacobson’s 2nd MG historical fiction novel, WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020) published. (And it recently received the 2021 National Council of Teachers of English Notable Verse Novel Award for 2021)!  

WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY is about 11 -year-old Jack, who recently learned that his father is MIA in Vietnam. As if that wasn’t upsetting enough, his Mom announces that she, Jack and his younger sister will be spending the summer at his Grandparents. What Jack originally thought would be a boring summer turns into a magical adventure involving a wish granting fish (Yes!) 😊, new friendships, but also a new bully.

An unexpected find in his father’s boyhood bedroom leads Jack to discover a diary that his father kept when he was around the same age. This diary from his father’s past just might have the surprising answers to Jack’s current problem. But will Jack be brave enough to do the right thing and handle the results if they do not go as he hoped.

This novel in verse lyrically weaves Jack’s discovery that summer and how it changes the lives of all involved in this heart-rending story. During this holiday season, WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY would make a great gift 😊

So now, here is Darlene Beck Jacobson sharing how the idea for the story came about and why she involved the unexpected twinkle of magic in Jack’s story.
Welcome Darlene! Thanks so much for doing this guest post!

Hi Kathleen! Thanks so much for hosting me on your wonderful blog. And thanks for wanting to know about the origins and writing choices I made for my latest book WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020).

On one particular morning in late spring of 2018, I awoke with the name JACK and a number of four letter words circling around my thoughts like a mantra. The more these words circled, the more they took shape and began shouting at me. “Here’s the title!” “Here’s the premise…of a boy missing his father who is at war.” I repeated these words, phrases, like a song I wanted to memorize so I wouldn’t forget.

Before I headed to the shower or did anything in my normal morning routine, I raced out of bed, grabbed a notebook and pencil, and wrote down everything circling my brain. Pages and pages filled the notebook, including a list of four letter words I hoped to use in the story. 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. 

This was the beginning of the writing journey that became WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020). As I began writing the story, and listening the Jack’s insistent voice and the way he talked, it became apparent that I had to tell the story in a non-traditional way. His emotions and feelings were laid bare in his desire to express all he was going through one particular summer. Free verse seemed the best way to capture this stream-of- consciousness story telling.

It wasn’t until JACK met a girl named JILL that I knew the story was bigger than just a boy missing his Dad. As the duo did their best to avoid the bullying from Jill’s brother CODY, I realized the story needed to be set in the past where they were freer to roam and play unsupervised.

How did I end up including the magical element of a fish that grants wishes?

This aspect of the story surprises me every time I think about it. I’ve never written magical realism or fantasy before. I didn’t plan on doing so with this story. Until they caught the one- eyed fish named FRED. At that moment it was as if the fish was talking to me and letting me know he wanted to be part of this tale. Jack had already been wishing for his Dad to come home, so it seemed like a great idea to make the fish a granter of wishes. And, it became the perfect vehicle for discussions of being careful what you wish for because every wish has a consequence, and doing the right thing instead of the easy thing.

The free verse format was very freeing in itself because I didn’t have to work in a linear fashion to tell the story. Each day Jack and I would sit down with a poem title and he would “spill his guts” regarding his thoughts on that word or idea. I could move the poem around to where it made the most sense in the story. It was exciting and joyful to write this way. I hope readers enjoy the end result.

Well I’m sure they will, Darlene! Thanks so much!            *Visit my blog next week to learn about The Snake, The Kitchen Ninja, and My Concussion….. 

Bio and social media for Darlene: 

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. 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




A Writing Mentor, Friend, and A Master Class

At my first SCBWI Carolinas conference held in Charlotte about 9 years ago I had attended a workshop taught by a North Carolina historical fiction author because I had discovered her book shortly before the session. I had been working on my first rough draft for The Last Cherry Blossom, reading as much MG historical fiction that I could find, and I came across the MG historical fiction, BLUE by NC award winning author Joyce Moyer Hostetter. I LOVED this book.

I attended her session, learned so much, and was encouraged that I just might be able to write my story (well, okay, it would take 6 more years and a gazillion rough drafts…). Joyce kindly read a few pages (I cringe now thinking of how awful they were) pointed out some of the bright spots as well as giving me such helpful constructive criticism. I still have that in one of my TLCB memory boxes.

Some years passed and imagine my excitement when I’m invited to have TLCB debut with Joyce, and these 3 award winning authors – Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Shannon Hitchcock, and Shannon Wiersbitzki as they rolled out #MGGetsReal

So, for the writers out there, I am happy to share some information from Write2Ignite about their virtual sessions with an opportunity to attend a master class taught by this talented award-winning author who I’m lucky to now call a friend!

Write2Ignite sent the following description:

The first Write2Ignite Master Class for Christian Writers of Children’s and Young Adult Literature will be held Saturday, September 19, 2020 is virtual and will feature award-winning author Joyce Moyer Hostetter. The cost is just $79 USD.

You may be thinking …

Master classes? I’m not a master. I’m not ready for a master class!

Oh, yes, you are!

W2I Master Classes are focused, in-person classes taught by master authors and teachers designed to help writers who want to become masters at writing for children and young adults.

We’ve included plenty of hands-on time for practicing your new and improved skills, complete with immediate feedback.

Our focus for W2I Master Classes is honing your writing skills.

No marketing. No social media. No agents or editors. And only $79 for the full day.

At Write2Ignite, we strive to create a constructive schedule of events that will help you increase your knowledge of writing Christian literature for children and young adults. Each of our events is created with you, the writer, in mind. We hope you’ll join us for this year’s Master Class from the comfort of your home on Zoom.

Here is a Youtube video which Joyce created for a preview of what class will be like.

Click here to Register by September 14. Find the schedule here.

Happy writing!

Also sharing on Welcome Heart

Celebrating World Read Aloud Day with a TLCB Giveaway

“Just one more book, please.” That was my daughter’s beloved nightly mantra as a child. My husband and I enjoyed every moment reading to her. I loved how she would look at the pages in the book and pretend to be reading by explaining what the pictures portrayed. Although, she’d eventually have most of the words memorized because we had read the book to her so often! Once she could read, it was so touching when she insisted to read to us after we read a book to her. That memory still makes my heart swell.

Sara’s favorite story from this book, ‘The Little Airplane’ had to be read to her every night.

Starting with kindergarten, I volunteered to read a book to my daughter’s class at least once a year. I thought it would be a fun way to also discuss our Japanese culture. I enjoyed finding various books for each grade level along with a craft. I still remember the first book I read to her class in kindergarten – HOW MY PARENTS LEARNED TO EAT by Ina R. Friedman/illustrated by Japanese American author/illustrator, Allen Say. I brought in wooden disposable chopsticks and taught her classmates how to use them by picking up Cheetos and fruit.

I think way back(well not too far back) 🙂 to when my elementary teachers read a book related to the chapter we were studying in history. It truly made me think beyond just memorizing dates and names. The characters in those books breathed life into that time period for me. I think that’s one of the reasons I have always loved reading (and now writing) historical fiction.

So, as I wrote The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) and I visited a class to discuss my mother’s experience in Hiroshima, it was a no brainer that I’d read some of my draft chapters to them and ask for their feedback. Now that TLCB has been published and I read either my favorite scene or the most difficult scene, I can’t help but feel a special connection made between myself, the students, and my mom’s story.

Reading out loud brings the story to life in the listeners’ imagination, no matter what the age. It’s such an amazing compliment to me as an author when I’m told that a teacher has read TLCB to their class. Reading a book aloud is a fun and lovely way to open a reader’s heart as well as their minds.

That is why I’ve enjoyed participating in World Read Aloud Day (WRAD), since TLCB published. Litworld, founded in 2007 by Pam Allyn, (a literacy educator and author) celebrated their first World Read Aloud day in 2010. I think this quote from their website sums up Litworld’s mission beautifully, “Literacy is not a gift given just to some lucky ones, it is a foundational human right that brings joy, economic independence, gender equity and a pathway out of poverty.”

2020 World Read Aloud Day was yesterday February 5th and I enjoyed the opportunities to read TLCB to and virtually meet so many students and teachers! This year to continue my celebration of #WRAD, I am doing a special TLCB Rafflecopter Giveaway going on now that’s ending February 21st. Prize package includes what’s pictured here and some surprise swag 🙂 Good Luck!


Secret City and Its Song Part 3(Final)

I apologize for being so late with this post. Pain, starting PT, and a conference took a lot out of me. But if you have been waiting for Part 3(Part 1, Part 2) of Secret City and Its Song,(please tell me you were 🙂 ) here it is….

On my last day in Oak Ridge, I had the honor to meet the key person who brought the International Friendship Bell to Oak Ridge- Shigeko Uppuluri. In 1987 Shigeko (Japanese American citizen) and her late husband, Dr. Ram Uppuluri initiated the idea of bringing a bell to Oak Ridge after visiting one at the Atomic Energy Institute in Japan. The Uppuluri’s had been residents of Oak Ridge since Ram took a job with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in 1968. I also met Jerry Luckmann, an Oak Ridge resident on the International Friendship Bell public relations subcommittee*. Initially, the bell caused controversy with some town citizens. In addition to some anti-Japanese sentiment, some residents had a concern that the bell would look like an apology for Oak Ridge’s role in WWII (which was/is not the intent). However, the bell also had the support of many residents like Jerry and Shigeko, who wanted to continue strengthening the relationship between Oak Ridge and Japan.

source:2008 Historically Speaking International Friendship Bell by Ray Smith

In 1993, renowned Kyoto bell maker, Sotetsu Iwasawa cast the 8,000 lb. bonsho (unique style with long and low sound) bell at a discount.  Private funds were raised by Oak Ridge citizens and Japan. Oak Ridge artist, Savannah Harris, designed two panels on the bell. One panel represents Tennessee: Iris flower, Smoky Mountains, a mockingbird, and dogwoods. The second panel represents Japan: cherry blossoms, Mount Fuji, crane, temple buildings. Both panels have rainbows and atomic energy symbol as a sign that events will never be repeated. A company donated shipping supplies and Honda shipped the bell on its automobile barge to Savannah (at no charge) where a truck that happened to be empty and returning to ORNL brought it to Oak Ridge. The dedication and hanging of the International Friendship Bell in the newly built pavilion at Bissell Park took place, May 1996. The International Friendship Bell commemorates peace, Oak Ridge, and the Manhattan Project workers*.

Panel representing Japan

Tennessee Panel


Jerry and Shigeko both reminded the students of the good will, friendship, and hope that can exist after horrible acts of war by both sides. So, each time the International Friendship Bell tolls, its song of peace fills the air. Similarly, in my novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, as the temple bell rings in the new year, Yuriko says, “… with each bong I sat wishing, peace, peace, peace…”

My daughter ringing peace bell in Hiroshima Peace Park Copyright K.Burkinshaw

My mother’s story and the story of Oak Ridge’s (and Hanford’s) contribution to the end of WWII can co-exist as a bridge to understanding each other’s stories with harmony, peace, and the elimination of nuclear weapons on the other side.

The children in Japan loved their family, loved their friends, worried what might happen to them, and wished for peace. The Allied children felt the same. If we don’t stop dehumanizing our “enemies” of  74 years ago and start realizing that they were not so different from ourselves and focus on the emotional connection we have as human beings, then we are at risk of repeating the same deadly mistakes, and silencing the bell’s song of peace forever.

At Friendship Bell with Shigeko Uppuluri

with Shigeko Uppuluri, Jerry Luckmann,Emily Haverkamp, Kat Hall, Scot Smith**

My Mom & her Papa

“It would be the sound of peace and contentment, as sound that transcends political opinion or nationality.” Shikego Uppuluri 


*There are so many wonderful people responsible and instrumental in purchasing/celebrating the Friendship Bell in Oak Ridge than I could mention in my blog post. For more info about Friendship Bell 

*A lovely book given to me by Shigeko Uppuluri – 2008 Historically Speaking International Friendship Bell by Ray Smith was a great resource for me.

**Emily Haverkamp-Jefferson Middle School, Kat Hall-Norris Middle School, Scot Smith-Robertsville Middle School

Also sharing this post at Welcome Heart