Cumberland author's book tackles youth homelessness

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CUMBERLAND — Inspired by children who struggle against the odds, Jennifer Richard Jacobson has written “Paper Things,” a juvenile novel about youth homelessness in Maine.

The book, published by Candlewick Press, tells the story of 11-year-old Ari and her older brother, Gage. Their mother, who had died four years ago, wanted the two siblings to stay together. But Gage finds their new guardian too bossy, and Ari follows him when they set off on their own.

But Gage can’t find a permanent home for them, and he and Ari are relegated to spending nights at his friends’ less-than-ideal places, or at a juvenile shelter to avoid Maine’s freezing temperatures.

Ari’s mother wanted her to attend a middle school for gifted youth, but their nomadic existence makes school a tremendous challenge.

Jacobson, who took two years writing “Paper Things,” provides professional development across the country for teachers through the Writer’s Workshop program.

“I’m in classrooms, working with students, and listening to their stories,” she said in an email Feb. 13. “So many children struggle against amazing odds. Recently, a second-grader was falling asleep during a lesson. The teacher sent him over to me
for a writing conference. It turned out that he and his brother sleep without a bed, on a tile floor. Temperatures had been well below freezing for a week in his city. Of course he was exhausted!” 

“These are the children who inspired this book – and there are so many of them,” Jacobson added.

“Paper Things” follows her 2010 novel, “Small as an Elephant.”

“The books are probably more similar than different,” Jacobson explained. “Both of my child protagonists have to find ways to survive while hidden. My fictitious kids, like so many kids in reality, deal with complex family issues. And the themes are similar as well: resiliency, finding community, learning to trust.”

Jacobson, who has lived in Cumberland nearly 20 years, is married and has two children and two stepchildren She is working on another book aimed at middle-schoolers: “The Dollar Kids” is set in a former mill town and has a theme of community.

Jacobson, who once taught first grade in Yarmouth, has written a variety of children’s books since the early 1990s, but found her niche with the middle-school age group. She said she adores sharing her work with youths ages nine to 14, and is excited to find a rising trend of adults who read middle-grade novels.

“I want my readers to enjoy a good story about characters that interest them,” Jacobson noted. “I do believe that stories help build empathy, and I think this book might do that, too.”

“Paper Things” can be found on candlewick.com and in bookstores. More information can also be found at jenniferjacobson.com.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Jennifer Richard Jacobson

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.