Over the past five years, many of you who follow Portrait of an Adoption have watched my kids grow from babies to toddlers to tweens, and you’ve written to tell me similar tales about your loved ones. We are sort of like a big family here.
Juliet is a fascinating person. She gives new meaning to the concept of service in the context of community, family and friendship. Even in doing this interview with her, I learned new things that impressed me about her values and her heart of gold. It is a privilege to partner with Juliet.
I was over at Juliet’s house last week. Her family has three Latvian orphans living with them right now. This is the third summer that the children from Latvia – two boys and one girl — have spent with Juliet, her husband, and their three biological children. The love that everyone feels for each other is obvious.
Carrie: Why did you decide to become a social worker?
Juliet: I wanted to be a Broadway singer. I got a big scholarship and was at DePaul studying music. While I was there, I took a women’s lit class, and we read Kate Schopin’s book The Awakening. I had a fabulous feminist instructor, and our class had a life-changing discussion about the oppression of women.
I had been hearing this stuff all my life — my mother had been the first executive director of the Evanston battered women’s shelter, and while I was at DePaul, she was the exec director of the Women’s Center of Northwestern – but I hadn’t really listened, because it came from my mom!
But now I was hearing about the oppression of women from another source, a beloved college class, and I also happened to be reading a book called The Measure of Our Success by Marian Wright Edelman, who is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund.
At the beginning of Adelman’s book, she writes a letter to her son. It says that service is the rent we pay for being on this planet. It all resonated with me. So strongly!
I no longer felt comfortable with my career goal of being a Broadway superstar. I needed to make a change. I was certain of it.
I applied to the University of Illinois social work program and transferred down there. I did my undergrad in social work with a concentration in child welfare. I stayed there for six years and also got my graduate degree.
While I was at U of I, I worked at a place called The Crisis Nursery. First as a volunteer, then hired on as staff, then did a master’s concentration there. I had a lot of different roles at The Crisis Nursery, and that was my entrée to hands-on social work.
Carrie: Was that the beginning of your interest in adoption work?
Juliet: My first job after getting my masters was at the Children’s Home And Aid Society. I worked with them for three years as a caseworker in foster care.
Carrie: What inspired you to write your first book, Sam’s Sister? (a wonderful children’s book from the point of view of a little girl whose mother places a baby for adoption)
Juliet: Actually, the first kids’ book I ever wrote was for a specific family. One of my best friends had an aneurysm, and she went into a semi-coma. Her three kids were struggling, and their father was struggling, too. No one was really talking with the kids about what was going on with their mother. So, I wrote a book for the family about kids going through this type of situation. I wrote it with a social work perspective, and another friend illustrated it, and we gave it privately to the kids.
When I was working at The Cradle (an adoption agency), we noticed that birth mothers sometimes abandoned their intended plans to have an open adoption, because they didn’t how to explain it to their other children. Most birth mothers are not teen moms; they are more commonly women in their twenties or thirties, and they have other kids. They know the realities of parenting, and they don’t have the resources for another baby. The older kids see the mom’s pregnant belly, and after the adoption, they wonder where the baby went. The moms aren’t trained in how to talk to their other kids about an ongoing relationship with their sibling’s adoptive family. Some birth mothers decided not to do an open adoption because it seemed too complicated.
So, I wrote Sam’s Sister and sent it to three publishers. Perspectives Press was interested right away. Over 50,000 copies have sold since, mostly to adoption agencies. (Perspectives Press was an adoption publishing company).
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In 2013, Juliet and her husband Kevin wrote a letter to their daughter’s middle school that kicked off an international discussion on the issue of parents and teachers sexualizing, shaming, and punishing girls who wear leggings and yoga pants to schools. Juliet is currently writing a research-based book on how school dress codes can be used to sexualize and shame girls.
Although Juliet and I have known each other as acquaintances for years, it was her recent work on the complexities of school dress codes that brought us back in touch with each other.
As Juliet wrote in a blog post of her own about how we came together to write Jazzy’s Quest:
When Carrie heard about my fight against the school dress code, she reached right out. She introduced me to other feminists fighting for the fair treatment of their daughters in a world where what they look like, what they purchase, and what they wear unfairly define them.
You know that old saying that describes two compatible people getting together “like a house on fire”? That’s how Carrie and I are when we get together. Neither of us can talk fast enough.
So one afternoon over a cup of coffee and a (delicious) chocolate crepe Carrie asked, “Do you want to write a children’s book together?”
Since becoming a children’s book writer and instructor, I’ve been asked this question many times. It’s never really appealed to me. Collaborating with someone’s whose unique voice and interests has always sounded like too much to tackle. Still, I wanted to know what Carrie had in mind.
“What about?” I asked.
“Well, K is really struggling to feel she belongs anywhere.”
Since I’d met K, Carrie and her husband had gone on to have two children by birth – both pregnancies and deliveries fraught with challenges and both truly living miracles. Carrie’s children by birth are dark-haired petite and frankly elfen-ly cute. K is tall for her age, has long blonde hair, and lovely blue eyes. There are obvious and internal issues that K struggles with as an adoptee.
Carrie and I talked about feminism, K and the lack of main characters in children’s books that reflect:
1. People of color
2. Girls who like traditionally “male dominated” toys, movies, books and characters like those in Star Wars
3. Other diversity of character representations in children’s books – like kids who grow up in foster care, kids with disabilities and kids with other life challenges
4. Books that appeal to kids who read at about a third grade level – so early chapter books – with this kind of content.
5. K’s struggle as an adoptee (who is in an open adoption) in a family with two children by birth.
As a result of this conversation, you guessed it, we wrote a book. Miraculously, we also found an enthusiastic adoption publisher, , who supported our idea of a series. So, meet Jazzy Armstrong. She’s a spunky, complicated, adopted, Star Wars fan who will encounter many exciting challenges, meet new people and grow up alongside so many AMAZING kids who want to see a bit of themselves reflected in a character.
So there it is, folks! The backstory on how Juliet and I came together to write Jazzy’s Quest. We are so happy to be working together. We are more than halfway through the writing of the second book and we are very excited about it.
Check out hot new release Jazzy’s Quest: Adopted and Amazing!
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