I have a treat for you today, my friends – an interview with author Joy Jones, in honor of the paperback release of her book, Jayla Jumps In.
Jayla Jumps In
by Joy Jones
Albert Whitman & Co, 2020
Read from library copy.
Fifth-grade Jayla is worried about her mother’s health when she overhears her talking to her other relatives about her blood pressure. But when her mother and aunts and even older Cousin Julia take a break from Thanksgiving dinner to demonstrate Double Dutch jumping right outside, Jayla is intrigued. Not only would she never have guessed that her mother could do tricks like that, but Jayla hopes that starting a team at school will bring her athletic success and some new friends. At the same time, though, her beloved uncle Alonzo is no longer willing to spend hours playing video games and watching movies with her – he’s got a new girlfriend, one that seems to be sticking around more than Jayla likes. Could Double Dutch be the solution to more than one of her problems?
KK: Family plays such an important role in your book, including Jayla’s worry for her mother, her rivalry with her cousin Shontessa, and of course her evolving relationship with her uncle Alonzo. Can you tell me more about how your process creating Jayla’s family?
JJ: I wanted Jayla to be the driving force, not an adult. I knew from the start that she would form a multi-generational double Dutch club. And to do that, she had to have both adults and children active in her life. That meant she had to have good connections with grownups and most of the adults children interact with are family members. Therefore, I had to make sure she had interesting characters in her family to interact with. Coming up with distinctive family characters was a lot of fun! (The adult in the story I like best is Cousin Julia, because she’s the one most like me!)
KK: Cousin Julia is a great character! I was really expecting Uncle Alonzo’s fiancee Tameka to take over coaching Jayla’s Double Dutch club at school – but you took the story in a completely different direction. What made you avoid the more standard “lonely kid learns to make friends at school” plot arc?
JJ: I’m glad you didn’t find my plot predictable! When I sat down to write the story, I knew I didn’t want to have a typical Double Dutch story with a competition as the centerpiece. I wanted the protagonist to create a more collegial team. I thought having a team of adults and children playing together was far more interesting. And it’s what has happened in my real life. My team, DC Retro Jumpers, does demonstrations where we get everybody to jump – grandmothers, kindergartners, college kids, businessmen, police officers – everybody. Just yesterday, we were doing a program and a man came up to me and said – “Wow! When they told me a double Dutch team was coming, I was expecting 8 or 9 year-olds.” Seeing ‘women of a certain age’ jumping around blew him away. And yes, we got him to jump, too.
KK:Faith communities are often minimized or ignored in children’s books, but Jayla’s church community also plays an important part in her life and in the book. Could you tell me more about your decision to include this in the book?
JJ: A lot of kids go to church – maybe not because they want to but because they have to. It didn’t feel like something alien when I was writing it. When I was young, I attended church, more for the social aspect than out of an obligation or even due to a spiritual motivation. Church attendance was a positive influence – one of many during my childhood. I just gave Jayla a similar experience. Also, my real Double Dutch team is often invited to do church events and that’s always well-received.
KK: I’m guessing that young readers are going to be most curious about Double Dutch. Where should they go to find out more?
JJ: The first step is a visit to the web site of the team I started, DC Retro Jumpers – www.DCRetroJumpers.com. There’s an instructional video there to show you how to do it. But what would be better than that – get a jump rope and play around with it yourself!
[Updated 10/25/21 to add] Joy emailed me to say that she was featured in a video story from AARP which you can watch to learn more about her Double Dutch team.
KK: Taking a cue from the KidLit Women podcast, what is your biggest, most out there literary ambition?
JJ: I’ve done a lot of traveling – I’ve visited 25 states and about 12 countries, but I’ve never flown first class. I’d like to win the Newbery – then I’d be able to earn enough money so that I can travel first class.
KK: That would be awesome! Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
JJ: I have two projects underway. For adults, I’m co-author on a book called, Bill and Lois Wilson; The Marriage That Changed The World. It’s about the couple who help start Alcoholics Anonymous and launched the Twelve-Step recovery movement. My next children’s book in progress is an MG novel called Walking The Boomerang, which won the PENAmerica Literary Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature.
KK: Thank you so much, Joy! I really enjoyed learning more about the thoughts that went into creating Jayla and her story. Readers, here’s where you can visit Joy’s website and find a copy of Jayla Jumps In at your local indie bookstore or library.