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Jackie's Story

Philly's Story

K's Story

The Artist

The Storytellers

Phylliss' Story

Philly’s Story

I have tried to write my “story behind the stories” for over a month now—and yet, nothing comes to me; I sit staring at a blank screen. Perhaps that is actually my real story.

In January of 2007, the idea of The Jessie Books was born. My good friend and co-author, Jaclyn (Jackie) Roth, had a baby girl in June of 2006 with her partner, Jami. Jackie expressed disappointment that there were very few children’s books for a child being raised in a nontraditional family, such as one with two moms. Jackie very much wanted to create a children’s book that her daughter could read and relate to. I loved the idea and quickly asked if we could partner.

Having practiced employment law for many years, I found (and continue to find) great irony in our need to identify, classify, and categorize people for the purposes of ensuring that we don’t discriminate. I found that in our pursuit to ensure that all persons are treated equally and not discriminated against based on the fact that they may fall into certain protected categories, we were actually making people list out the very protected categories (sex, race, ethnicity) in which they fall. It all seemed counter-intuitive.

For me, The Jessie Books needed to deal with the nontraditional family by not dealing with it at all: simply, there is no need for Jessie and her moms, and all of the other characters in The Jessie Books, to categorize themselves or to distinguish nontraditional from traditional. The characters in The Jessie Books just are—they love, they laugh, they nurture, they support, they care, they challenge, they teach. They are everybody that I know—and probably everybody that you know, too. They are not separated by categories, but joined together and aligned in the human experience.

And so it was on every Sunday for the entire Winter of 2007, I sat in front of my computer and had the intense joy and pleasure of being five years old again. The ideas and words flowed from my heart with such ease. And while Jackie and I exchanged drafts and ideas, there was a piece of the creative puzzle that we realized we were missing. Enter my sister and co-author, Kathryn Silverio. Kathy joined Jackie and me in the Spring of 2007, and it was through her efforts and influence that Jessie came alive. Kathy adjusted storylines and created visual descriptions in text in such great detail that you could see a vivid picture in your mind’s eye before a sketch was ever drawn.

Whether it was one of the first drafts of a book, or one of the dozens and dozens of re-drafts, every interaction I have had with Jessie makes my heart sing. I cannot wait for the day when we all can fully embrace diversity for the purpose of accepting, sharing, and learning—and not for the purpose of judging, separating, and finding fault. I hope that The Jessie Books have this influence in some small way.

Peace and Light to all of you and Happy Reading!

—Phylliss DelGreco

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Kathryn's Story

K’s Story

For me, working on The Jessie Books has been an invigorating labor of love spanning several years, interspersed with the high and low events of life. When I thought about my “story behind the stories,” it seemed that several key inspirational moments were linked to a specific locale.

This particular place, hallowed ground for me, is where, more than 30 years ago, my older sister introduced me to her classmate who became my husband; it is where we kept “going back” each Spring for Reunions to re-connect with friends, sharing memories and celebrating new milestones; it is where we took our baby daughter, who nonchalantly sat atop bronze tigers and chased black squirrels; it is where, years later, we entrusted our then-teenaged daughter into the culture of this great institution of higher education and watched her flourish and graduate four years later; it is where we still return to walk together, hand in hand, crunching autumn leaves on old stone pathways.

As I tried to verbalize the relevance of this locale to my experience of working on The Jessie Books to my co-authors, Jackie and Phylliss, the connection, which seemed logical in my head, was muddled and unclear, like when you attempt to describe a vivid and profound dream, only to realize it no longer makes sense in the re-telling.

So, what was it about this specific place that I felt was tied to The Jessie Books? It eventually occurred to me that a location per se was not connected; rather, it was what this place symbolized that made it significant: optimism, evolution, and relationships.

Not only are these three qualities prominent in the stories about Jessie, they also define the creative process that occurred over the five years from inception of the project to launch of the first book. Each of us formed her own special relationship with Jessie as we shaped the manuscripts from sketchy first drafts to more developed plots to final streamlined text. Immersing myself into Jessie’s world was an intoxicating elixir, and I found it to be energizing and uplifting work. We created the character of Jessie, and she then spurred us on to continue developing her world and expanding her adventures.

As we took turns editing and reviewing over the course of time, we honed each story until we were thoroughly satisfied before passing a manuscript on to our illustrator, Rory. Just as Rory’s illustrations evolved from pencil sketches to inked drawings to rich, full-color pieces, our manuscripts went through an earlier evolution of their own, and grew to be larger in impact and smaller in words.

The Jessie Books, although featuring a little girl with nontraditional parentage, are, in essence, universal stories about family and personal growth and good relationships. In writing the books and creating people who love and are loved by Jessie, it is obvious that the caring qualities of these characters reflect in some way members of our individual family units, which we treasure deeply. And now, five years after beginning our collaboration on The Jessie Books, we three have become much more than partners in a creative project—we are forever joined together as the Jessie family. This bond, I am certain, will continue to grow to be as powerful and indelible as the attachment I have for that special place with its Gothic architecture, majestic trees, and loving memories.

—Kathryn Silverio

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Jaclyn's Story

Jackie’s Story

As a young child, my favorite author was without a doubt Shel Silverstein. There wasn’t a poem I couldn’t quote from Where the Sidewalk Ends. I mean, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout”? Come on! His entire anthology was a hot commodity in my elementary school. They were the books we all saved our dimes for, knowing we would return them late because we just couldn’t get enough—despite the librarian’s stares, we held them close to our chests, hid them deep in our backpacks, and refused to hand them in until we couldn’t take it anymore. My favorite poem by Silverstein has always been “The Voice”…

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you—just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.

 

These words have always resonated with me. And to this day, they are the best way I can describe the meaning of “following your heart.”

My daughter Jessie was born on a warm Monday morning in June. This past March, my girlfriend Jami gave birth to our second daughter, Addison. Our girls are the reason behind everything we do.

Back in the Fall of 2006, I was in a bookstore shopping for some children’s books. I was specifically looking for stories with two moms in them. My mother mentioned she also had been looking for books for Jess that had two moms in them—books she and all of us could relate to as a family. She was disappointed to see that the options were less than minimal, if there were any options at all.

Later that day I sat, sadly staring at the gaping hole on Jessie’s bookshelf where I had hoped to place books she could read and hold close to her heart, just as I did with every Silverstein book I came across. All I found was a quiet that echoed all around me—a space that needed to be filled.

And so an idea was born. An idea that would hit a different nerve in all three of us… Phylliss, Kathy, and I have been inspired by so many things in our lives. The Jessie Books became all of ours almost instantly. Our zest wasn’t just about putting books on the shelf that filled “the-kid-with-same-sex-parents” section in the bookstore. It was about so much more—more than any of us could ever have imagined. It was about giving every kid out there who has ever felt different, invisible, and unable to speak… a Voice.

When the three of us decided to collaborate on these books—stories that depict the life of a bright, exuberant little girl, just living her life—I felt a true shift in my perception. Or perhaps it was that I knew, with these books, we were about to change perceptions, alter perspectives, undo stereotypes. But most of all, I believed our books would give all the “Jessies” of the world a chance to see themselves in a widely accepted and incredibly successful series of books.* Not to mention, show other kids out there that Jessie’s family is no different from their own. The framework of a family does not define it. A family built on love, respect, and harmony is universal.

And so here we are. Five years later and I can’t help but feel as though we are on the brink of something larger than life. I’m hopeful. I believe the time is now.

Every child out there should know: You do have a face, a place in this world, and—most importantly—a Voice.

A very special “thank you” to my family, my parents Robert and Anita Roth, for always loving, supporting, and believing in me. I know how lucky I am to have grown up in a family full of love and understanding, with an emphasis on just how beautiful life can be.

“Anything is possible. Anything can be.”

Love and Peace,

—Jaclyn Roth

*Clearly, I’m assuming that these books will be a screaming success, followed by more weekly sets of books, an animated series, and, of course, merchandise! I mean, what kid doesn’t want a stuffed Maxim? Or a Jessie backpack? Yeah—you’re welcome, parents.

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The Story Behind the Stories...

Our reflections on the things that inspired each of us throughout the creative process...

Click on the images to read our individual “stories.”