Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Q&A with Ronni Diamondstein


Photo by Randi Childs



Ronni Diamondstein is the author of the new children's picture book Jackie and the Books She Loved. It focuses on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Diamondstein has worked as a teacher and media specialist. She lives in Chappaqua, New York.


Q: You’ve said that you have always admired Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. What inspired you to write Jackie and the Books She Loved?


A: After she passed away in 1994, I had an idea for a novel about her and started researching and talking to people who knew her. When I was talking to Margot Datz, the illustrator of Carly Simon’s children’s books that Jackie edited, she suggested that I write a children’s book.


I first wrote a long chapter book that got no traction and then about five years ago I thought a book about how reading and writing were a thread through her life. I knew that picture books bios were a great genre and began to work on this book. 


I did lots of revisions of it before it was sent out and it didn’t take long for Sky Pony Press to acquire it. I was thrilled. It was a pleasure to work with my editor Nicole Frail. We were very much in sync during this process. I always felt I had a voice and that it was heard.


Q: What do you think Bats Langley’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Illustrations are such a very important part of a picture book and complement the text in a wonderful way. It is not always the case, but I had a lot of input on the illustrations. I didn’t give many art notes but since I have such a vast collection of materials about Jackie with photographs, I provided many images to Bats Langley.


For example, the horse statue on the cover is like the horse that Jackie had on her piano in her Fifth Avenue apartment. He did a wonderful job bringing the story to life with the details in the illustrations.


One fun thing that happened was he asked me what kind of cake she liked, and I was able to tell him because I have the book Cooking with Madam by Marta Sgubin. I sent him a picture and you’ll see the cake in the book! One of my favorite spreads in the book is the last one. We had a marvelous collaboration.

Q: The writer Nancy Churnin said of the book, “Ronni Diamondstein’s lyrical text, enhanced by Bats Langley’s charming illustrations, will get children thinking about how books can help enrich their lives, too.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: I love Nancy Churnin’s description! As a school librarian and teacher, I always wanted kids to make connections to the books I read aloud to them. I hope they will love books and reading like Jackie did and that the book encourages and inspires them to be readers.


I hope they may have a personal connection. Do they have a special relationship with a grandparent, like Jackie? Do they have a little library of their own? Do they write and illustrate stories?


I also hope they see how important the spouse of a president is and that they appreciate what a remarkable person Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have two nonfiction picture book biographies out on submission now. Both are fascinating people that I feel very passionately about them. And I’m currently working on another picture book bio.


Emma Walton Hamilton once said, “I think you have to have a personal connection, and that's what I am always looking to try to create: a personal way in to a story.” All of these bios reflect that.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In order to include the poem “Sea Joy” that Jackie had written when she was 10 years old, I needed permission to reprint it.


I contacted her daughter, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, in Australia and two days later I heard from the executive director of the Kennedy Foundation that Ambassador Kennedy was happy to give me permission.


I was thrilled and thought that I hope this makes Caroline Kennedy happy to know that a new generation will learn about her mother and read her poem.


There are many resources on my website for kids, teachers, and librarians.


You can watch the Legacy Lecture I did with First Ladies Library NATIONAL FIRST LADIES LIBRARY Legacy Lecture: Jackie and the Books She Loved, Penning a Picture Book


My launch with the Chappaqua Library BOOK LAUNCH: AUTHOR TALK: JACKIE AND THE BOOKS SHE LOVED with Ronni Diamondstein November 9, 2023








--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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