I am so excited to interview my friend, author and poet Jacqueline Jules. I am a big fan of Jacqueline’s picture books and chapter books, and I was thrilled to hear about her newest book, a middle-grade verse novel titled MY NAME IS HAMBURGER (Kar-Ben, 2022). In the novel, Trudie Hamburger lives in a small southern town in the 1960s. Being Jewish, she faces challenges in school and with friends. It’s a beautifully crafted, emotional story that has a deep personal connection to Jaqueline. It’s an honor to chat with Jacqueline about her writing process and to learn more about MY NAME IS HAMBURGER. Welcome, Jacqueline!
Tell me a bit about your main character, Trudie Hamburger. What was the inspiration to create her story?
My Name is Hamburger was inspired by my own childhood. Trudie is a fictionalized version of who I was, growing up as the Jewish child of a German-speaking immigrant in a small southern town during the 1960’s.
MY NAME IS HAMBURGER takes place in the South in 1962. Why is this setting significant?
In the 1960’s, during my childhood, bias and discrimination were accepted conventions in society. Minorities were encouraged not “to make waves.” In My Name is Hamburger, Trudie’s mother tells Trudie to wear her Jewish star necklace against her heart as a “private reminder” of who she is and what she believes in. To tell Trudie’s story, I needed it to be set in a time and a place when minorities tried to keep a low profile and rarely spoke out against discrimination.
Trudie faces both subtle and aggressive antisemitism in her school. How do these experiences shape Trudie?
Trudie describes Friday night Shabbat dinner as a time when “my family feels braided like the challah bread Momma baked in the morning.” Trudie enjoys Shabbat morning services, particularly the music, which she knows so well, her “lips move all on their own.” Judaism is a treasured part of her family life. But she is acutely aware that no one else at her school understands her religion. Her best friend, Lila, questions why the family drives thirty miles to the nearest synagogue, when they could go to a church a few blocks from her house.
The country club in Colburn, the town where Trudie lives, refuses admission to Jews. When Sue Ellen, the most popular girl in class, holds her birthday party there, Trudie is excluded. At times, she sees herself as the “Trudie not allowed in Colburn Country Club.”
Music class is another problem for Trudie. While she loves to sing, she doesn’t feel comfortable with the lyrics of overtly Christian songs at Christmas and Easter. She sits with her head bent and lips closed until the music teacher notices and calls a meeting with Trudie’s mother and the principal. The grown-ups decide that Trudie would be more comfortable in the library during music class because the music teacher shouldn’t have “to change her choice of sacred music for just one child.” This situation gives Trudie another identity as the student not welcome in Monday music class.
These exclusions motivate Trudie to find acceptance in other ways. She tries to win the spelling bee and the class reading race, “to prove I’m better than some people think.” In the end, Trudie comes to the realization that she’s different, “but not in every way. “
Friendship is an important theme in MY NAME IS HAMBURGER. How do you think literature can help young readers with empathy and understanding?
While Trudie feels distinctly different in her small southern town, she and her family are far from friendless. Trudie’s father is injured in a serious accident and the community rallies to help. As a refugee from World War II Germany, Daddy has seen “people turn their backs when others suffer.” He is touched when neighbors show him the “best of what people can be.”
In My Name is Hamburger, Trudie is surprised by all the cards and flowers sent after her father’s accident. She realizes that her perception of others hasn’t always been correct. Relationships are the heart of existence. Literature shows people interacting in both positive and negative ways. This builds empathy and understanding.
How are Trudie’s experiences relevant for young readers today?
Young readers in every generation grapple with self-doubt, embarrassment, and bullying. I hope Trudie’s journey toward self-acceptance will help young readers feel less alone as they face their own challenges.
The novel is written in verse. Can you share a bit about your creative process with writing verse? How does it differ from writing prose?
I began My Name is Hamburger twenty years ago. The first versions of this novel were all in prose. The story attracted some nice comments from editors but no sale. Some of the feedback suggested Trudie’s voice was not quite strong enough. I put down the novel and picked it up many times over the years. When I returned to it in 2019, I decided to try telling Trudie’s story in verse. Poetry is my first love as a writer. I am the author of three chapbooks and one full-length poetry collection for adults. My poems have appeared in over 100 publications. And in Spring 2020, Albert Whitman published my collection of poems for young readers, Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence. So I feel very comfortable writing in verse. Once I began writing My Name is Hamburger in verse, the story flowed better. The conciseness of verse heightens the emotion. Poetry depends on economy of language, speaking volumes in just a few words or images. Writing individual poems gave me the opportunity to focus on my character’s feelings as she navigated the events of the story.
Thank you, Jacqueline!
Jacqueline Jules is the author of fifty books for young readers including the Zapato Power series, the Sofia Martinez series, The Hardest Word, Picnic at Camp Shalom, Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook, Sarah Laughs, Never Say a Mean Word Again, and The Generous Fish. She grew up in southern Virginia. Visit her online at www.jacquelinejules.com