Today's guest blogger is Jacqueline Jules, author of many books, including the recent Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner Benjamin and the Silver Goblet. Thanks and congratulations, Jackie! You are an outstanding role model to authors and educators!
In elementary school, I returned to the library every week to ask for another blue paperback volume in the Childhood of Famous Americans series. As a child, I never tired of reading about people who overcame obstacles and grew up to do important things. Now, I am a big fan of famous rejection stories, which I tape above my computer monitor. My current favorite is the story of Madeleine L’Engle. Her Newbery Award winning A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 different publishers before going on to its current success of selling 15,000 copies a year since its publication in 1962.
Role models inspire us. They give us courage to pursue our dreams. And no book is more loaded with role models than the Bible. These stories have resonated for thousands of years because they give us examples of strong individuals who struggled to find meaning in their lives. The heroes in the Bible frequently had to choose their own conscience over the customs and moral attitudes of their surrounding society. In my picture book, Abraham’s Search for God, a young Abraham questions the traditions of his father. He says “Idols have mouths but cannot speak to me. They have ears but cannot hear me. How can an idol help me?” His father’s abrupt answer, “Don’t question our ways,” does not deter this thoughtful, inquisitive young man. He continues his spiritual quest to learn “Who made the clouds? Who made the flowers?” finally coming to the monotheistic conclusion that made him the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
But Abraham’s story doesn’t end with a declaration of belief. Together, with his wife, Sarah, Abraham teaches other families to worship one invisible God “too powerful to be made into a simple statue of wood or stone.” In my book, Sarah Laughs, I explore Abraham’s life from Sarah’s point of view. When she learns that her husband has heard God’s voice, she knows it means they must leave their comfortable home. Her response is simply, “We must go.” Through years of wandering, Sarah happily supports her husband and maintains a tent with a welcoming lamp and bread for all who visit. But she feels impatience and disappointment, too. Only in old age, after years of longing, does she finally receive what she wants most—a child. Her life embodies the hope that our dreams will come true, not matter how long they are delayed.
This kind of story and character speaks to the psyche of both children and adults. As a writer, I have enjoyed re-visiting my favorite Bible stories and being renewed by them. In Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, I had the opportunity to imagine what it was like for Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons. When he learns that his older brothers betrayed the family by selling their brother Joseph into slavery, he fears for his own safety. On a trip to Egypt, Benjamin is falsely accused of stealing the governor’s silver goblet. Will Jacob’s sons abandon a family member again? No, Judah defends Benjamin, offering his own life. The governor reveals his true identity as Joseph, and the family is reunited. It is the quintessential story of remorse and repentance. Remembering Benjamin’s plight, I can believe that people can change. They don’t have to make the same mistake twice. It helps me if I have trouble in my own life, forgiving a loved one who has wronged me.
The fourth story in this series, Miriam in the Desert, will be released in the fall of 2010. In this picture book, I follow Miriam and her grandson, Bezalel, as they witness the miracles in the desert. Once again, I was fascinated by a Biblical heroine, facing one hardship after another with fortitude and faith. I only hope that if I am ever in a difficult situation, I can be as comforting and courageous as Miriam. And I hope that when parents read my Bible stories with their children, both generations will find role models to guide and inspire their lives.
Check out the book trailer for Jacqueline's Bible series!
All artwork was by Natascia Ugliano.