Using Darlene Beck-Jacobson’s Debut Novel WHEELS OF CHANGE in the Classroom

I’m so excited to welcome Darlene Beck-Jacobson today in celebration of the launch (September 22) of Wheels of Change, her debut middle-grade historical novel.  I met Darlene at a NJSCBWI conference a couple years ago and was totally intrigued by the process Darlene and her idea went through. You see, she originally wrote Wheels of Change as a picture book. But after some urging from an editor she went back to the drawing board (or writing board in this case), did more research and turned her 1500 word manuscript that she envisioned as a picture book into a wonderful middle grade novel, rich with historical setting and multi-layered characters.  Since writing and education are my passions, I asked Darlene some questions about how teachers might use Wheels of Change in their classrooms, and if she could provide insights about her research process.


  1. Tell us a little about how Wheels of Change came to be? The story sprang from two bits of family history I found while researching my family tree. My paternal grandmother’s father was a carriage maker in Washington DC at the turn of the 20th Century, and grandma received an invitation to attend a reception at the White House hosted by Theodore Roosevelt. She attended that reception with her mother and met TR. So my premise became: What would a girl do to try and save her father’s carriage making business at the dawn of the automobile…would she go all the way to the president?
  1. You must have needed to do a lot of research for the book -what were you most surprised about? I was most surprised by how helpful and generous people were about answering questions, sending photos, or lending their expertise on numerous occasions. The research was ongoing, so I was constantly sending e-mails or letters to get answers to questions like: What were the roads paved with in 1908? Which areas of the district had electricity? Where were the White House stables located? The list went on, and there was never a time when I did not get an answer to my questions.
  1. Do you have insights for students about the research process? Take your time, and don’t be afraid to look in unlikely places. I looked at old maps, cookbooks, 1908 Sears Roebuck Catalog, and in numerous books about American Culture at the turn of the 20th Century. DON’T just rely on the internet. Anyone can post things there; be sure you verify the sources and information you find online. Also, visit museums. They are treasure-troves of information regarding specific time periods.   And, talk to the experts. There are many people who spend their lives learning about American History or culture and are happy to share that knowledge with you. Just ask!
  1. How might teachers and librarians use the book in school? WHEELS OF CHANGE can be used as an introduction to a unit on The Industrial Revolution. There are downloadable resources at the Creston Books website, including study questions that tie into the Core Curriculum Content Standards for Reading and Literature for grades 3-5, a vocabulary list, and mother/daughter book club discussion questions.  Teachers can also download activity sheets, puzzles, guides to etiquette, as well as popular toys and games of the period.
  1. When you were writing the book, did you have any particular reader in mind? I just wanted to tell a story that would appeal to boys and girls.
  1. Will you be doing school visits? and if so how might a teacher, librarian, or school contact you? Anyone can contact me through my websiteon Twitter @dustbunnymaven or on my blog
  1. What’s you favorite passage/scene in the book? Why? One of my favorites is a scene in Chapter 3 where EMILY and her best friend CHARLIE are waiting for the pie judging contest to begin (Mama had Emily enter her first pie in hopes of teaching her proper lady-like ways). While they wait, Emily and Charlie enjoy a watermelon treat offered by Charlie’s dad, Mr. Cook. Here’s the excerpt:

“Have a nice piece of watermelon. It’s quite refreshing on a day like today.” Mr. Cook cuts two large wedges and hands them to us.

We step into the sunshine to enjoy the treat. I take a bite with juice dribbling down my chin. Mr. Cook was right about it being refreshing. Charlie grins and spits a watermelon seed. It lands on the lacy edge of my dress sleeve, stuck like a beetle in a spider’s web. I grin back at him and take another juicy bite, working the melon around my tongue until I capture the seed, take aim, and spit.

My first try falls pitifully short of Charlie, landing on his shoe. Fortunately, the watermelon is full of sticky black seeds, so I get a lot of practice. By the time I’m finished eating, I’ve landed a fair amount of seeds on Charlie’s shirt and trousers.

“I think I did pretty good,” I say, tossing the rind in a trash barrel.

“Not as good as I did.” Charlie laughs.

When I look down at my dress, it’s covered in black polka dots. I spin around and shake, trying to loosen them. Not a one budges. I flick off a few, but the warm sun has baked them onto the cotton, so it takes more than a flick to get them off. Just when I think I’ve picked off the last one, I find another.

“Mama is not going to be pleased.”

I’d like to thank Darlene for stopping by and for providing us with a snippet from the book and her process.  Take a minute to view the trailer and check out the next stop on the WHEELS OF CHANGE tour to find out all about the main character, Emily, at Nerdy Chicks Rule.


Darlene blog tour photoDarlene Beck Jacobson has loved writing since she was a girl. She wrote letters to everyone she knew and made up stories in her head. Although she never wrote to a president, she sent many letters to pop stars of the day asking for photos and autographs. She loves bringing the past to life in stories such as WHEELS OF CHANGE, her debut novel. Darlene’s stories have appeared in CICADA, CRICKET, and other magazines. When not writing, Darlene enjoys baking, sewing and tea parties. She also likes hanging around forges watching the blacksmith work magic. She’s never ridden in a carriage like the one in the story, but hopes to one day. Her blog features recipes, activities, crafts and interviews with children’s book authors, and illustrators. She still loves writing and getting letters. WHEELS OF CHANGE is available from CRESTON BOOKS. ISBN# 978-1-939547-13-2. You can learn more about Darlene at her website. Check out her website.

Interview with Dianne de Las Casas Founder of Picture Book Month

I’m so excited to introduce Dianne de Las Casas one of the founders of Picture Book Month. Diane is also an award-winning author and storyteller. This interview is chock-full of great ideas and insights that I’m sure you’ll find useful as a writer, teacher, or reader. So without further ado…

1. How did Picture Book Month come about? In the fall of 2010, The New York Times published an article stating that picture book were “no longer a staple for children.” Many people in the kidlit community expressed outrage. As a picture book author myself, it spurred me into action. In September 2011, I reached out to several of my friends in the children’s book industry: Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Tara Lazar, Wendy Martin, and Joyce Wan. Joyce created the incredible logo while I funded the website, and performed the major marketing and PR. Elizabeth created the PBM calendar. Katie dedicated the entire month of November of her Brain Burps About Books podcast to Picture Book Month. Tara spread the word through her initiative, PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). We all tooted horns for Picture Book Month on social media: Twitter, Facebook, etc.

2. You have quite a few published picture books. What is it about this format that appeals to you? I have 11 picture books published with my 12th picture book arriving in Spring 2014. My 2013 picture books are The Little “Read” Hen and The House That Santa Built. I love the picture book format! You can reveal so much with so little. A standard picture book runs 32 pages. That’s not a lot of space to tell a story. But the best picture book authors and illustrators use that liability as an asset. Words count. Pictures illuminate. In a good picture book, there is a seamless integration of words and art that elevate a story and transform it into a format young children really connect with. Each page turn is a breath, a pause between words and illustrations. Illustrated end papers can yield surprises the reader does not expect. Insides of dust jackets can even transform into posters! (Look at the 10th Anniversary Edition of Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Spider and The Fly.) Picture books are the building blocks for early literacy. They are worlds of wonder in the tiniest of hands.

3. Do you have any picture book author mentors, and if so who are they and what have you learned from them? I don’t have any personal mentors, per se, but I do adore several picture book authors and illustrators, whose work inspires me. I chose the following for how they inspire me.

The Wordsmith: I absolutely adore Tammi Sauer. I believe she is one of the best picture book writers of the 21st century. She truly understands the art and craft of the picture book and can break it down in terms a kindergartener would understand. She is a clever wordsmith and I love every one of her picture books.

The Connector: David Ezra Stein is a Caldecott Honor author/illustrator. His work is amazing. His work is consistently brilliant, even when the style of his art and writing changes. His books just connect with readers.

The Imagineer: Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an author I adore from afar. I don’t know her but I hope to have her as a Picture Book Month Champion some time in the future. I LOVE Wumbers and Spoons is so sweet. She is another clever wordsmith who just possesses a gift for imagination.

The Thinker: Peter Brown is amazing. His new book, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, just blew me away. Creepy Carrots (written by Aaron Reynolds) won a Caldecott Honor. He makes everything look so easy but each detail is well-thought through. His art is bold yet elegant. He inspires me to not just think outside the box, but to throw the box away.

The Comic: Jon Scieszka makes me laugh. He writes books full of outrageous humor. He really gets kids. And he is as charismatic in person as his writing is in his books.

The Creative: Peter Reynold’s The Dot is such a phenomenal book that I have a signed copy of it in my office. It’s one of my all time favorite picture books. I look at it every day to remind me to “make my mark.” Peter uses simplicity (look at his use of white space) and the art of storytelling to inspire creativity in his readers. Less is more in Peter’s world. And it makes me want more of Peter’s books.

4. How might you suggest teachers capitalize on the power of picture books in their classrooms?  Picture Book Month now has a fantastic new Teacher’s Guide written by our education consultant, Marcie Colleen. The guide correlates picture books to the U.S. Common Core and learning standards. Our website also has links to picture book activities. I encourage everyone to read the essays about the importance of picture books by our Picture Book Month champions, which list ample reasons why we should all cherish picture books.

Still want more reasons to include picture books in the classroom? Check out this amazing post by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.  Debbie will be a 2014 Picture Book Month Champion.

November is Picture Book Month! Read * Share * Celebrate!

Thanks you Dianne for taking the time to provide us with your thoughtful and informative insights.

About Dianne de Las Casas

Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author, storyteller, and founder of Picture Book Month. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. The author of 22 books and the 2013 recipient of the Ann Martin Book Mark award, her children’s titles includeThe Cajun Cornbread Boy, There’s a Dragon in the Library, The House That Witchy Built, The Little “Read” Hen, and The House That Santa Built. Visit her website at Visit Picture Book Month at

Interview with Marcie Colleen: Author of Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide

In honor of Picture Book Month I plan to do a series on using picture books to support students’ writing.  To launch the series, I thought it would be nice to interview Marcie Colleen, the educational consultant for Picture Book Month and the author of the Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide.

I met Marcie at a NJ SCBWI event last year.  Her energy and open heart are contagious. She is running her first Marathon tomorrow and has been raising money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It would be great if people would send her good wishes or maybe even submit a last minute donation.

Without further adieu. Here are Marcie’s answers to some questions I posed about picture books—their power and their influence.

1. How did you get involved with Picture Book Month?  My involvement in Picture Book Month is a true testament to the value of community among kidlit-ers.  Last November Dianne de Las Casas, the founder of Picture Book Month, Tweeted that she was looking for someone who would be able to create curriculum for Picture Book Month, and also tie it to the Common Core.  I am not too Twitter-savvy, but the fabulous Elizabeth Omlor immediately sent Dianne my way.  See?  It’s good to have community!

2. What do you think is the most important reason to use picture books?  Hmmm…that’s a tough question, seeing as I just created a 16 page document with MANY reasons for using picture books!  But if I had to say the most important I would say the “read aloud” aspect.  Not only do picture books create a shared experience between reader and child/children, they also build listening skills.  Picture books ask us to slow down, listen and enjoy.

3. What advice would you give teachers when choosing picture books to use in their classroom?  Choose books that you enjoy!  In fact, I would go one step further: choose books that the kids enjoy.  I am a firm believer that good teachers can make a lesson out of anything.  So why not, at least once a month, let the kids pick the book and build the lesson from there?  Talk about letting the kids have ownership.

4. I know you have been a teacher, so I was wondering how did you use picture books in your classroom?  Well, I taught high school English and Drama.  I wasn’t as passionate about picture books back then…or at least I thought I wasn’t.  However, I did create a Children’s Literature course in which my students would study picture books and pull out the themes and issues within those books.  They then would develop a lesson plan and teach it to the kids at a local elementary school.  I guess you can say, the class was basically a course on creating Teacher’s Guides!

5. Do you have a favorite picture book or author to use in the classroom? If so what or who? and why?  I taught a long time ago…so Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein were my favorites, mainly because they offered so much beyond the words on the page.  My favorites were The Giving Tree and The Sneetches.  But if I were to teach today, I would probably teach a lot of Oliver Jeffers…for the same reasons.  I love layered stories that speak to a variety of readers.

6. When you are writing picture books, do you think about how the story might be used in classrooms?  and if so, how does that influence your writing?  Want to hear the ironic thing?  I don’t.  I have two different brains that I use: the teacher brain and the storyteller brain.  Perhaps this is best because I never want to seem heavy-handed or “messagey” in my stories. In my opinion, writers need to write the stories they want to tell and let the teachers figure out how to teach it.  When the time comes that I am published, I will don that teacher’s cap and create curriculum for my books.  But until then, I strive to write stories that I love with a kid’s enjoyment as my muse.

Thanks Marcie.  For your time and passion.  And Good Luck tomorrow.  I’m sure you’ll do great.

MarcieMarcie Colleen is chasing the picture book writer’s dream. She is represented by Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency. A former teacher, she also creates Teacher’s Guides for other people’s books.  You can visit her website at She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her amazing fiance and adorable sock monkey.