Farewell, Jack …

September 19th, 2014 | Posted in Books | 8 Comments

CaptainJack

 

Jack Kunkle died yesterday morning.

He was an amazing, amazing young man whom I met when he reached out to me as an 11-year-old in treatment for a brain tumor.  I knew him for a long time, but admittedly, not very well.  You can read some of the details in the post titled, “Emily, Matthew, Jack & Jack” below.

What I didn’t write about at that time is the big impact Jack had on me.  I meet kids with cancer all the time as a result of having written two fairly popular books on the subject, and of course they’re all nice to me.  I mean, I’m the visiting author, and I wrote two books to honor their experience.  Why wouldn’t they be nice to me?

The remarkable thing about Jack, and it was impossible to spend any time in his company without realizing it, is that he was nice to everyone, all the time.  Think about how hard that is, even if you aren’t fighting cancer.  When you factor in the extreme difficulties of Jack’s seven years in and out of treatment, which also included dealing with a bout of cancer his mother went through, his unfailing kindness was extraordinary.

So extraordinary, in fact, that I based the main character of my next novel, a sixth grader who wakes up one morning and decides to be unfailingly kind, helpful, and heroic, regardless of the consequences, on Jack.  And, of course, the book will be dedicated to his memory.  I had sent the first eighty or so pages of the rough draft to Jack so that he could see what he had inspired, and, typically, just a few days ago, he emailed me to ask whether I wanted him to send me feedback as he went along, and if so, what type of feedback would be the most helpful.  I just wanted Jack to see what he had done for me, but he was trying to the end to help me.

Ever since I spent a couple of hours with him at a Starbucks last spring, I have been thinking and thinking about some of the things that happened while we were there.  He offered several times to pick up the tab.  He kept asking how I was enjoying my food and drink.  He wanted to know whether my flight and the drive out to his home had gone smoothly.  This wasn’t a put-on, or simple good manners; this was who Jack was.  Another remarkable thing was how many people came up to Jack and hugged him, shared a quick smile or a little anecdote, and then left.  It was very much as though I were sitting with the mayor of his small town.  And again, his desire to put each person at ease was clear.  This was a young man who’d gone through brain surgery just weeks before, but he asked every single person, “How are you doing?  How’s your wife?  Your little sister?  The dog?  The cat?”

He appeared truly to be interested in everyone else’s needs, at a time when his would always be the greatest in the room.

We spoke, as we generally had online, of our shared loves: the Beatles, the theater, creative writing, comedy.  Then, as the time came close for me to leave, he got the closest he had all day to the semi-forbidden topic of the future.  (As in every interaction I’d ever had with Jack, or with anyone in his family, I felt the avoidance of the topic was to make others, rather than the Kunkles themselves, more comfortable.) He brought up his friends who would be leaving for college in the fall, and the fact that he’d had to defer his college plans for the duration of his cancer treatment.  Then he mentioned his desire to major in creative writing, which was his truest passion.  He told me he was worried, though, about whether that was practical.  In what I was coming to see as classic Jack fashion, he was concerned about making a living after college because he didn’t want to be a burden on anybody.  In his final analysis, though, he concluded that you had to at least try for your dreams in life — didn’t you?

Jack was supposed to have six days of intensive chemotherapy earlier this month, and then undergo an autologous stem-cell transplant.  However, after the first two days of treatment, things went south, and the doctors discovered that Jack’s tumor had grown unexpectedly.  The decision was made at that point to stop treatment.

And now Jack is gone.  Like many, many others who knew him — most far better than I did — I am crushed.  But I am choosing to believe he has finally gotten to go to college, at the most beautiful floating creative-writing university in the sky.

So, Jack, please feel free to take a three-day weekend.  Relax, and get used to the place.  Because on Tuesday bright and early, you have Improv Comedy 101 with Drs. Radner, Belushi, and Williams, followed by Intro to Songwriting with Lennon and Harrison.  Then on Wednesday, you start Writing for The Stage with Dr. Shakespeare.  They’re all waiting to meet you.

 

 

After the Shave

June 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Books | No Comments

Well, the experience of getting my head shaved for Jack’s Chattanoggins was overwhelming.  I need more time before I can process everything.  For now, I will just pop up a “before” pic of me and Jack with hair, and an “after” shot of us with the mayor of Chattanooga, Andy Berke, who shaved the ceremonial first stripe for each of us.

By the way, thank you to my donors!  We raised almost $2,000 for Erlanger Children’s Hospital.  The event, in total, brought in over $38,000.

jordanandjackbefore Jordanandjackafter

Emily, Matthew, Jack & Jack

May 6th, 2014 | Posted in Books | 3 Comments

This month is a tumultuous one for me.  It’s the tenth anniversary of the publication of my first novel, Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie, which Scholastic has commemorated by publishing amazingly nice new editions of both Drums and its sequel, After Ever After.  Here they are:

Tenth anniversary editions!

Tenth anniversary editions!

The new version of Drums features a ten-page essay I wrote about the girl for whom I wrote the book.  I’ve told the basics of the story to literally hundreds of thousands of people.  Her name is Emily; when I met her, she was an eighth grader, and I was her English teacher.  She had a younger brother named Matthew, who was in treatment for cancer.  I promised Emily’s mom I would find a book that Emily could read that might help her to talk about what she was going through as a cancer sibling.  However, I couldn’t find any books about middle schoolers whose siblings had cancer, so I wrote one.

But there is much, much more to the tale, because after I wrote the book — in fact, twenty-one days before it was published — Emily’s brother, Matthew, died.  The tenth anniversary of his death is this Saturday, May 10, 2014.  The date weighs on me every year, but never more so than right now, amid this hoopla, when I have just written the new introduction.  By all accounts, Matthew was an amazing boy, and know first-hand how wonderful Emily and her parents are.  I have been trying for months to find a fitting way to pay tribute to them.

In the years since the book’s publication, I have met dozens of cancer patients and hundreds of family members; that basically comes with the territory.  Right after I wrote the new introduction, one of my all-time favorite readers, a teen in the Chicago suburbs named Jack, sent me a catastrophically alarming Facebook message: his brain cancer was back.

I met Jack via email when he was eleven years old.  He wrote to tell me that he’d read Drums and related, because he was a bald new kid in middle school.  We wrote back and forth several times, and I eventually met him and several members of his family on two separate trips to Chicago.  He even interviewed me for his school newspaper.  A couple of years after that, I sent him some signed books and stickers for another cancer patient and her family.  Then Jack’s cancer went into remission, he entered high school, and I lost touch with him.

Well, when I learned that his tumor had returned, I knew I was going to be in Chicagoland for some school visits, so I emailed his parents and asked what I could do to help.  They said a visit would be appropriate.  Long story short, Jack and I went to Starbucks.  I had a great time.  Jack is so very much like I was at his age: intensely curious and engaged; a passionate fan of baseball and the Beatles; a serious, constant writer.

This week, Jack’s first short play was produced at his high school, but Jack wasn’t there to see the premiere.  He is in the intensive care unit with a chemotherapy-related infection.

There’s another kid named Jack in my professional life.  I met Jack Skowronnek via email when he was ten.  He had read Drums, and decided to start an organized head-shaving event to raise money for kids with cancer.  In the first four years he has been doing this, Jack has raised over $100,000 for the cause.  Here is the homepage of his fifth annual shave, which will take place in Chattanooga, Tennessee ON the tenth anniversary of the pub date of Drums: http://www.jackshaves.org.

Last year, I Skyped with Jack and the crowd while Jack got his head shaved.  This year, I have found what I feel is an appropriate way to honor Emily, and Matthew, and both Jacks: I will be flying down to Chattanooga and getting my own head shaved.  If my writing has been a source of joy or meaning in your life, or if you would like to help in the fight against childhood cancer, please feel free to click here to donate as a member of my team.

We all know too many kids like Emily, Matthew, and Chicago Jack.  I am honored to be doing something concrete and visible to support childhood cancer patients and their families.  Won’t you please join me?

 

 

 

New school year, new novel!

August 27th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | 4 Comments

Woodstock Pro Pic

 

 

I am a huge fan of music in general.  I especially love rock music, and I basically worship legendary 1960s guitar and songwriting genius Jimi Hendrix.  Here I am, playing the “Jimi Hendrix Chord” — that’s an E7#9 for all you guitar gurus out there — on my current favorite guitar, a Stratocaster similar to the one Jimi played at Woodstock.  Which is no coincidence, because my NEW NOVEL, Are You Experienced?, which comes out on September 3, is about Woodstock.  And Jimi Hendrix … and his guitar … and that magical E7#9 chord.  Plus a whole lot of other really cosmic stuff, maaaannnn.  I am really excited about this one.  In the words of one reviewer, “This provocative, personal peek at legendary Woodstock rocks.”  Hey, if you say so, dude!

:)

If and when you read the book, please feel free to email me at jsonnenblick (at) rcn.com and tell me what you think, OK?

It’s Me Talking about Curveball

February 23rd, 2012 | Posted in Books | 8 Comments

I am really proud of this video that Scholastic produced to promote CURVEBALL:

FINALLY, A NEW NOVEL — AND A NEW BLOG POST!

February 20th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Books | No Comments

OK, so it has taken me a while to write a new book.  It’s also taken me a while to write a new entry here.  The good news is that now that I’ve started writing, I am on a roll!  So: I’ve got a new book called Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip coming out from Scholastic in only TEN DAYS!  I am super-duper excited.  My author copies came in the mail today, and they look great.

Wearing my Grampa Sol's authentic 1940s camera, BTW

I love "Box O'Books Day"

Please feel free to go to the Curveball page to learn more about the novel, or just click here to read the first 21 pages at Scholastic’s website for free.

As for the “on a roll” comment, after a long dry spell, I am almost done writing my next book, which will come out in the fall of 2013.  I am not allowed to tell you much about that one yet, but hey … at least if you want to know whether there’s something else in the pipe after Curveball, the answer is a definite YES!

Hey! I actually WON something!

January 14th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Books | 31 Comments

Yay! A shiny sticker!

On Monday, the American Library Association announced this year’s children’s literature awards, which are basically the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmy Awards in my profession.  I hadn’t given even a passing thought to winning anything this year, because I have been trained by a lifetime of non-winnerhood.  But then, on Sunday, while I was frying up some parsley potatoes to go along with dinner, the phone rang.  My son answered, and told the person on the other end that I was too busy to come to the phone.  She replied, “Your Dad will want to take this call …”

She was right — I did want to take that call, because she and the rest of the Schneider Family Book Award committee were there on speakerphone to tell me that After Ever After was this year’s middle grade winner of the award:

http://www.ala.org/template.cfm?template=/CFApps/awards_info/award_detail_home.cfm&FilePublishTitle=Awards,%20Grants%20and%20Scholarships&uid=A839B3A9DB37CD78

which is given to “honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”  Thrilling for me, because it gets right to the heart of what I was trying to do when I wrote the book.

I’m not kidding about the non-winnerhood, by the way.  I mean, I have never found anything larger than a one-dollar bill on the sidewalk.  I’ve never won even a measly buck on a scratch-off lottery ticket.  And when I was a kid, I went to a small summer camp that had maybe 60 campers.  At the end of the summer, the counselors gave out something like 40 trophies to the campers who were good at anything from archery to waterskiing.  I was a camper there for six years, and became probably the only long-term camper in the place’s history who never won a trophy.

Hence, my excitement at this phone call.  Now and forever, I have won a national award.  Bestowed by experts.  For something about which I care with a burning passion.  The best part?  I didn’t even burn the potatoes.

Small world …

May 13th, 2010 | Posted in Books | 10 Comments

I should be blogging about the forthcoming release of the third and final DODGER book, Dodger for Sale.  I am really psyched about this one, partly because it’s dedicated to my two beloved godchildren, and partly because it has environmentalism themes that are very important to me.  Plus, I just think it’s really funny.  School Library Journal agrees (warning – you have to scroll way down to find the review):

http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6727442.html?industryid=47067

BUT I have to write about something else, because this is just too weird.

See that (excellent and well-reviewed) book called Shade, by Jeri Smith-Ready?  See how it’s shelved right near several of mine?  Well, Jeri and I studied abroad at King’s College London   together 20 years ago, and both went on to be published authors.  We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of decades, and neither of us had any idea that the other even wanted to be a writer, until we met up randomly at Book Expo America two years ago.  Now our books will be neighbors forever.  Kind’a cool!

Fifth Grade World Tour!

May 10th, 2010 | Posted in Blog | 4 Comments

Hi All -

Here’s a picture of me and Dodger on the first day of our Fifth Grade World Tour!  It’s Children’s Book Week this week, and the third DODGER book is coming out this month, so I wanted to celebrate.  Between now and Thursday, I am using Skype and iChat to have video conferences with 15 groups of students from all over the country.  I will “meet” kids fro IL, VA, VT, TX, NJ, FL, and MN.  This is a really fun, environmentally friendly way to connect with readers — and my wife and kids are thrilled that I don’t have to leave the house to do it!

My wonderful publisher, Feiwel and Friends (a division of Macmillan) helped to make this tour happen, and even sent me a really nice goodie package that arrived during a chat this AM.  The kids in Illinois really liked the rainforest-themed candies, and their teacher, Mr. Moylan, really liked the environmentally-friendly coffee.

THE NICEST PUB DATE YET!

February 3rd, 2010 | Posted in Blog | 9 Comments

They're not really sleeping, I swear!

OK, I know that in the post below, it might _look_ as though the front row of students fell into a coma during my classroom visit at Sacred Heart School in Bethlehem, PA yesterday.  But really, the student in the photo was just leaning to the side to avoid blocking the photographer’s view.

Honest!

Anyway, this was my first visit since the release of AFTER EVER AFTER, which just came out on Monday.  I was so excited to talk about the new book!  It’s gotten great press from both the usual book-review periodicals, including the nicest review I’ve ever gotten:

(http://www.booklistonline.com/default.aspx?page=show_product&pid=3796017).

It’s also gotten written up glowingly in several important blogs:

http://readingjunky.blogspot.com/2009/12/after-ever-after-by-jordan-sonnenblick.html

http://kissthebook.blogspot.com/2009/10/after-ever-after-by-jordan-sonnenblick.html

http://abbylibrarian.blogspot.com/2009/10/book-review-after-ever-after.html

http://proseandkahn.livejournal.com/47312.html

Anyway, it’s really nice to be appreciated.  Between the magazines, the bloggers, and that obviously fascinated boy in the front row, I am thrilled by the reception AFTER EVER AFTER has gotten already!