Emily, Matthew, Jack & Jack

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?




3 Responses to “Emily, Matthew, Jack & Jack”

  1. Brenda Kahn says:

    Ah, Jordan, do you know how hard it was to read your post through the tears that brimmed immediately? Drums remains one of my top ten favorite books of all time and, my favorite “cancer” book. Anyone who touches the heart of young and old alike, as you do, will have a tender and brave heart. I always had such admiration for those doctors and nurses who devoted their lives to cancer care. Best wishes on your anniversaries and good luck in Tennessee. xo


  2. Jaymie Barnard says:

    I am so happy to see this, and it is very well timed. My 13 year old son has been feeling helpless watching his grandmother go through (now nearly three years’ worth of) cancer treatment. When her hair started to fall out due to her radiation treatments, he wanted to shave his head for her but she was not quite ready to do the bald and proud thing (and who can blame her). Last month, my son heard of St. Baldrick’s, one of many organizations that raise money and awareness for Childhood Cancer. He decided to join an event in honor of his grandmother. He said that even though it was not to benefit research on her type of cancer, he felt it was a great way to honor her and to help families affected by cancer. I have had many proud moments as his mom, but this was among the proudest. He will be having his head shaved at an event on May 31st and he is working on recruiting his baseball team to join him. Thank you for doing this. It is such a great way to raise awareness and funds.

  3. Janet Jennings says:

    Jordan, I’m proud to support you in your head-shaving! It was a great experience having you visit my school three years ago, and I love book-talking your books in the media center!

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