PictureBookBuzz: Tell us about yourself.
Jolene: I’ve always loved books and reading and writing. I grew up on a farm and enjoyed being outside with the animals, exploring nature, and looking for cool rocks and artifacts, but I also loved to listen to my mom read to me and later, read to myself. I loved going to our school and public library and playing library with my own books. I started writing and illustrating my own stories when I was four, and when my second grade teacher, Mr. Boettcher, said to our class, “If you want to make a book, I’ll use my typewriter and type up the stories that you write,” I went home that weekend and churned out story after story. I still have my book that Mr. Boettcher “published” for me (addendum to this memory: Mr. Boettcher came clean 30+ years later and admitted that his lovely wife played a large part in the typing of the stories). And holy cow, I realize how many times I’ve used the word love in this answer, but that’s the truth. I found what I loved—something that nurtured me and that I wanted to nurture—and I’ve never lost that loving feeling for language and story.
PictureBookBuzz: Tell us about your main character.
Jolene: In Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Case, Mac and Cheese are the class guinea pigs, and Oliver is their biggest fan. He loves taking care of them and learning about them. Oliver is a very scientific kid and carries around a notebook to write observations and sketch things he notices. He’s struggling to make friends, though, so he watches Mac and Cheese because they’re the best friends he knows. He sees them snuggling and cuddling with each other and assumes that to be a good friend, he’ll need to get cuddly with his classmates.
PictureBookBuzz: What do you think readers will find most appealing about your book?
Jolene: I know kids will love illustrator Heather Bell’s adorable Mac and Cheese characters! Oliver is such a cutie, too! And I hope that teachers and parents will be drawn to the book because it deals with social skills and personal space in a fun way.
PictureBookBuzz: Was there one moment in the revision process that changed your manuscript? Was it a critique partner, an agent, an editor that made you know you were on the right track?
Jolene: Yes! Before she was my editor, I’d scheduled myself for a critique with Callie Metler-Smith and she helped me see the manuscript with such clarity—she caught things that weren’t working, started me thinking about adding a class pet, and once I decided on guinea pigs and came up with the names Macaroni and Cheese, Callie is the one who said (in her lyrical Texas accent), “I just keep calling them Mac and Cheese.” So Mac and Cheese were born!
PictureBookBuzz: What are you currently working on?
Jolene: I really love history and biographies, and I have four picture book biographies completed at this point. Because I’m a librarian, I love the research component, and as a teacher, many of the topics I teach are around people and events my students likely haven’t heard of but should hear about. And if books haven’t been written about those people or events, I’m passionate about telling those stories.
PictureBookBuzz: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
I’m most active on Facebook, but here’s where you can find me online:
We are a group of picture book authors and illustrators whose first picture books will be released in 2019. Read about our roads to publication here.