Ask the Author: Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo
What would you like readers to know about you?
I write books about kids finding their own kind of brave. I grew up in a small farming community in Connecticut. Even as a young girl, I was always trying to find my voice and my place in the world, and reading books helped me do that. I have had a lot of jobs over the years—waitress, housekeeper, Congressional Aide, English teacher, attorney. But growing up in my small town and listening to my grandparents’ stories have probably had the biggest influence on me and my writing.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
A Galaxy of Sea Stars is the story of 11-year-old Izzy Mancini who feels as if her whole world is shifting, and she doesn’t like it. She wants Piper, Zelda, and herself—the Sea Stars—to stay best friends as they enter the sixth grade in their new regional middle school. Everything changes when Izzy’s father invites his former interpreter’s family, including 11-year-old Sitara, to move into the upstairs apartment at the marina where they live. Izzy doesn’t know what to make of Sitara with her hijab and refusal to eat cafeteria food, and her presence disrupts the Sea Stars. But in Sitara, Izzy finds someone brave, someone daring, someone who isn’t as afraid as Izzy to speak up for herself. As Izzy and Sitara grow closer, Izzy must make a choice: stay in her comfort zone and risk betraying her new friend, or speak up and lose the Sea Stars forever.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
I volunteer at an organization called Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (irisct.org) in New Haven, Connecticut, where I’ve had the great opportunity to meet and work with so many amazing young men and women. Several young ladies I’ve gotten to know, who are refugees from the countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, initially inspired me to write Izzy’s and Sitara’s story.
I remember the middle-grade years as being a time of great change. Adult’s expectations seemed to inexplicably shift overnight, and the world suddenly felt impossibly big—making me feel even more tiny and insignificant. In A Galaxy of Sea Stars, I wanted to bring together a girl like me (Izzy) who was afraid of all that change—with a girl (Sitara) who’s had to deal with more change than any child should have to. Ultimately, Izzy’s fear of change—and how Sitara inspires her to face it head-on—became the heart of A Galaxy of Sea Stars.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
The melmastiyâ scene! Melmastiyâ in Pashto (Sitara’s first language) means celebration or feast. Soon after the Haidary family moves into the apartment above Izzy’s family, they invite Izzy and her father to a melmastiyâ feast where they serve many traditional Afghan foods. I love this scene because it is where Izzy first gets to know Sitara and because sharing food is such a universal celebration—something done in all cultures. The young women who advised me on the entire book seemed to especially enjoy helping me write this scene. I also had the chance to be part of a melmastiyâ myself, where I got to enjoy so much amazing Afghan food. This was such a fun scene to write and experience!
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
I have so many! But I have to say that I have always admired how Kate DiCamillo, “faithfully writes two pages a day, five days a week.” She demonstrates how beautiful writing develops with persistence and continuity and has helped me remember that great writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Also, I adore everything Rebecca Stead writes and her books have inspired me greatly over the years. Other writers who have made my journey possible include Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Patricia Reilly Giff, Carolyn Coman, Laura Shovan, Tricia Clasen, and Bette Anne Rieth.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
There is no special school you need to attend or degree you need to earn to tell a story. Just be brave and shout it out because the world is waiting for your beautiful art!
You can find Jeanne at www.jzulferr.com.
You can find Jeanne’s Books in stores everywhere including:
RUBY IN THE SKY:
A GALAXY OF SEA STARS: