An Interview with Jennifer Richard Jacobson about her Newest Book Paper Things – by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan

41OqMfINFRL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Do you wait in long lines to have children’s books signed?   Do you seek out children’s book authors at literacy conferences and bookstores? Do you tell students and your own kids about the times you met their favorite children’s book authors?   If so, Nerdy Book Club Members…we have a great deal in common.


Every time we meet a children’s book author and share our experience, our young listeners become a little bit closer to that author.  Sharing a photo and a story of what inspired the author to write their book helps students understand that there is a person behind each and every story they read.


This summer at the International Literacy Conference (ILA) we got a chance to meet Jennifer Richard Jacobson, attend her presentation, and talk with her about her newest book, Paper Things.


If you haven’t read Paper Things, it is simply a must read.  It is the story of a brother and sister, Gage age 19 and Ari age 11, who decide to leave foster care and find themselves homeless.  As Gage struggles to find work and a safe place for them to sleep, Ari becomes more and more behind in school.  She is embarrassed to tell her dearest friend about her situation or to ask for help.  Readers will fall in love with Gage and Ari as they understand the special bond these two siblings share.  This is a story of love, friendship, and determination that middle grade readers will not want to miss.


Here is our interview with Jennifer Richard Jacobson about Paper Things.


Tammy and Clare:  Where did you get the idea for writing Paper Things?


Jennifer:  It’s rarely a single idea that inspires my novels.  Instead, I begin to gather memories, concerns, images, and overheard conversations — much like a bird gathers material to build a nest — and weave them together until I have a story.  In this case, I wove a childhood game, heartrending stories from students, and the image of a homeless man with a dog (amongst many other sticks, strings and ribbons) to create Ari’s dilemma.


Tammy and Clare:  Why paper dolls?


Jennifer: When I was a child, I played “Paper Things.”  My neighborhood friend Karen and I spent hours playing with paper worlds that we constructed from catalog cutouts. I just reconnected with Karen after forty (or more) years.  Whereas I have incorporated our game into a novel, she is constructing beautifully decorative greeting cards with paper cutouts (including paper dolls).  Never underestimate the value of child’s play.


Tammy and Clare:  What do you want students and teachers to know about Paper Things?


Jennifer:  That, yes, Paper Things is a story about an eleven-year-old girl who is homeless, but it is also a story about loyalty, friendship, the importance of school traditions, the power of kindness, and hope.


Tammy and Clare:  Tell us about why you chose to write about homelessness in this book?


Jennifer: As a writing consultant, I’m in classrooms across the country, working with students, and listening to their stories. So many children struggle to learn against amazing odds.   Recently, a second grader was falling asleep during a lesson.  His teacher sent him over to me for a writing conference.  It turned out that he and his brother regularly sleep, without a mattress, on a tile floor.  Temperatures had been below zero for a week in his city.  Of course he was exhausted!  These are the children who inspired this book – and there are so many of them!


Tammy and Clare: What advice do you have for young writers in the classroom?


Jennifer: Learning to write most closely resembles learning to play a sport. So: practice often, find your mentors (in this case great books that you can learn from), and don’t be afraid to take risks.


To get a peek inside this book, check out Anna Frantz book trailer about Paper Things.



Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan have been working in the field of professional development for the past 22 years. They now run a private staff development business, Teachers for Teachers, working with varied school systems to implement best practices in the field of literacy and to engage in institutional change.  They are the authors of Assessment in Perspective.  You can find them on Twitter as @clareandtammy and online at