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.

Relax and Let Yourself Be Inspired

Ullswater, The Lake District from

My friend Laura tweeted a post from Out on a Limb: Shy Writer Goes Social  about enjoying silence – especially during this time of added stress and lengthening to do lists. When I read the post I couldn’t help but sigh. It was a great reminder for me to just take a step back and breathe. I find, but often forget, that it’s the in-between moments of life that generate energy, inspiration, and a sense of grounding and connection.

So turn off your phones, tvs, and radios and when you notice a moment of silence, take a breath, close your eyes, and be.

When was the last time you celebrated silence? Give it a try and let us know how it went.

Writing Inspiration: Shells on the Seashore

My friend visited her parents in Delaware right after Sandy.  This is what they found when they walked to the beach. Aside from the astonishing amount of shells as well as the size of them, I’m amazed at how each one seems perfectly formed.  Usually, it’s so difficult to find a shell without cracks or pieces missing – especially shells of this size.

Since I’m participating in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), I’m especially sensitive and on the look out for inspiration. This picture certainly got me thinking.  Ideas quickly streamed through my thoughts – Shell City.  Treasures from the Sea. Maybe a poem? So I thought I’d share it.  Maybe you’ll find an idea or two hidden within these perfect shells too.

Let me know.