Young Readers Author Began Writing with Her First Grade Students

Jennifer Richard Jacobson presents at the South Dakota Festival of Books and Young Readers Festival of Books in Brookings and Sioux Falls, Sept. 22-25 and in Rapid City, Sept. 27. Read her bio and full schedule.

Andy Shane didn’t like school to begin with, but the class know-it-all, Dolores Starbuckle, made his day even worse by tattling on him. Twice! Before lunch! Such was the beginning of their beautiful friendship.

Jacobson, Jennifer Richard - latest headshot - small.jpgAndy Shane and Dolores Starbuckle: 4 Books in 1, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, is the Young Readers One Book South Dakota selection for 2016. With the help of sponsors, the South Dakota Humanities Council distributed 5,000 copies of the book across the state, and Jacobson will visit third graders in Brookings, Sioux Falls and Rapid City in September to discuss the perils of elementary school and the joys of writing.

Jacobson is on familiar ground in the classroom. She began her career as an educator, and later, her students helped jump-start a second career as a writer. “When I was a first grade teacher, I wrote along with my students,” Jacobson says. “Together we explored the question of what makes fine writing and tried to use the techniques we discovered from other authors in our own work. I frequently read my work to the students (when it was my turn in the Author’s Chair) and they gave me advice.” 

Jacobson completed a children’s novel that year, and although it will never be published, “it kept me on the path, kept me writing,” she says. “When my daughter was born, I decided to try my hand at a writing career. I wrote articles, books for parents and teachers, teacher guides and emergent readers for first grade reading programs — anything that would give me the time and space to continue trying to break into the children’s field.”

ABOVE: Jennifer Richard Jacobson in a short interview with Candlewick Press. 

After the birth of her second child, Jacobson took a job reviewing 400 picture books for a company creating reading anthologies — a task which put her on the fast track to the parenting hall of fame. “My children thought I was the greatest,” she says. “I stayed in my pajamas and read to them all day long.”

 More importantly, Jacobson’s survey taught her “to recognize the pattern of story, the power of voice, and the tone of modern literature. Learning from published authors is one of the very best ways to learn to write.”

Once the job was completed, Jacobson put those insights to work and published her first book, A Net of Stars, about a girl who faces her fears and discovers the sky is truly the only limit.

In addition to writing for young readers, Jacobson leveraged her background as an educator to produce No More ‘I’m Done!’ Fostering Independent Writers in the Primary Grades, which gives teachers the tools to encourage budding young authors. The first principle for them applies to all ages. “If you want to be a writer you must sit down and write,” Jacobson says.

Lesson number two might be: don’t get discouraged. “I sent an article to Cosmo in my 20s, and received my first form rejection letter,” she says.

Which worked out well for Andy and Dolores.


Story by the South Dakota Magazine staff, reprinted from the 2016 Festival of Books guide.