Jacqueline Jules, My Name Is Hamburger. Kar-Ben, 2022, 240 pp.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What motivated you to write this story? Why verse?
Jacqueline Jules (JJ): I love writing in verse. Before I ever wrote anything in prose, I wrote poems. I am the author of three poetry chapbooks and a full-length collection for adults. My poetry has appeared in well over one hundred journals. I am also the author of Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence, a collection of sports-themed poems for children. So I am very comfortable with the format. My Name Is Hamburger did not begin as a verse novel. I decided to write the story in verse when other prose versions failed. Once I began the story as a series of poems, the character’s true voice emerged. Before My Name Is Hamburger, I had separated my poetry from my prose. Merging the two forms felt so natural and right for this novel. Looking back, I am surprised it took me so long to figure that out.
Author Jacqueline Jules
My Name Is Hamburger was inspired by my own childhood growing up in a small southern Virginia town as the daughter of a Jewish German-speaking immigrant. It is the most autobiographical book I have written even though many of the events in the story are fictionalized. When I write, I strive for emotional truth rather than literal truth. Trudie’s emotions in My Name Is Hamburger were mine growing up. Writing this story was a reflective journey into my past.
TWM: What were the challenges? Satisfactions?
JJ: My Name Is Hamburger includes a pivotal scene in which the main character Trudie and her father visit the famed Japanese cherry trees in Washington, DC. This recalled my own fond childhood memories of viewing the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin with my family. The first versions of this novel began with a trip to Washington, DC to see the beautiful blooms. This scene now occurs on page 61 of the book in a poem titled “Daddy and Daughter Day.”
The cherry blossoms are waiting for us.
I can already see how pretty they will be
in my father’s smile as he backs the van
down the driveway. “We’re off,” he says,
reminding me of the song in Wizard of Oz.
My Name is Hamburger began as a slim chapter book which I abandoned and picked back up over a fifteen-year period. I expanded the story and changed the plot multiple times but a Japanese cherry tree always played an essential role. Seeing My Name Is Hamburger finally in print after literally hundreds of revisions is very satisfying—a dream come true. It is my first book for middle grade readers.
TWM: Did you work from a plot outline?
JJ: When I write a new adventure in my chapter book series, Zapato Power, I start with an outline because the pacing of each book in the series needs to be similar. However, I don’t use an outline for my other writing. Instead, I write notes in which I brainstorm possible directions for the story. Every time I am stuck I stop and write notes, asking myself questions like: Could the character do this? Is this plausible? What should happen next? These notes guide me through each section of the book I am writing.
TWM: Why is this story important for kids today, Jewish and non-Jewish?
JJ: Trudie’s story is one of resilience. During the course of the novel, she learns that her perceptions of others and how they see her are not always correct. She becomes more comfortable with her place in her community as a Jewish minority and the child of an immigrant. She discovers the strength to say her name with pride: “My name is Hamburger. An all-American food.”
Young readers of all faiths struggle with self-acceptance. When Trudie accepts that she is “different, but not in every way,” I hope young readers will be prompted to embrace their own differences, to see their family traditions and background as sources of joy.
TWM: Which authors/poets inspire you?
JJ: I am an avid reader. I read two or three middle grade novels a month. It is always hard for me to choose a favorite author because I may encounter a new author in the next book I pick up. Looking over my GoodReads list from the last few months, I can say I especially enjoyed Splendors and Glooms by Amy Laura Schlitz, Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein, and No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen.
TWM: What’s your next project (if you can talk about it)?
JJ: I am excited about Moses and the Runaway Lamb which will be released by Kar-Ben in May 2023. This picture book recalls the midrash of the little lamb who ran away during Moses’s days as a shepherd. Moses searched for the lost lamb and tenderly brought her home in his arms. The midrash says this is the moment when God chose Moses to be a leader of the Jewish people. According to the rabbis, this act of compassion for the smallest in his flock demonstrated that Moses would be the kind of leader who would take care of everyone.
For more about Jacqueline Jules, please visit her website.