Monday, September 11, 2023

Q&A with Jacqueline Jules




Jacqueline Jules is the author of Smoke at the Pentagon: Poems to Remember, a new novel in verse for children that focuses on the impact of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Jules's many other books include the Zapato Power series. She lives on Long Island.


Q: What inspired you to write Smoke at the Pentagon?


A: As I mention in my Author’s Note, a conversation with some inquisitive sixth graders in 2008 surprised me. The students, all 11 or 12 years old, had no idea something had happened at the Pentagon on Sept. 11. 


At the time I was a full-time school librarian in Northern Virginia, familiar with the curriculum and in contact with the entire student body. I realized that 9/11 was not being taught or discussed in classrooms. It concerned me. Would this history be forgotten?


I wondered about this many times over the years and discussed it with friends. In the summer of 2019, a friend suggested I write a book about the Sept.11 Northern Virginia experience. Smoke at the Pentagon: Poems to Remember is the result. 


Q: In your Author’s Note, you write, “I decided that recognizing the wounds of the past can help us understand the present.” Can you say more about that, and about what you hope readers take away from the book?


A: History always informs the choices of the present. For example, security everywhere, but particularly at airports, has changed drastically since Sept. 11. It is useful for young readers to understand the reason for this.


When we recognize the wounds of the past, we can learn how to do better in the future. And we can see that we have suffered and survived catastrophe without collapsing.


I have always been fascinated by history, learning how people endured difficult times. Personally, it gives me the strength to believe I can emerge from the challenges in my own life. I hope young readers will see the tragic history of Sept. 11 as a time when the United States came together and rebuilt.  


Q: The poems are composites of people’s experiences on that day--how did you figure out the best way of composing them?


A: I worked hard to include as many perspectives as possible. The ages of the children in Smoke at the Pentagon: Poems to Remember range from 5 to 21. The narrators recall their 9/11 experience from both home and school. Some discuss their immediate shock and fear. Others talk about how their lives changed.


No two people experience an event in exactly the same way. Each poem focuses on an individual response.


Q: Twenty-two years later, what do you see as the legacy of the Sept. 11 attacks?


A: I think we are still figuring that out. Only a small fraction of states currently require 9/11 to be part of the curriculum. I hope that number will increase in the coming years. I believe that students benefit from learning the history of their country and the difficult parts should not be excluded.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just signed the contract for Zapato Power #15. Zapato Power #13: Freddie Ramos and the Beach Monster was released in September 2023 by Albert Whitman. And Zapato Power #14: Freddie Ramos Sees in the Dark will come out in 2024.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Please visit my website to see a Teacher’s Guide. I hope that teachers will find Smoke at the Pentagon: Poems to Remember to be a valuable resource for their classrooms.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jacqueline Jules.

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