As the author of over fifty children’s books, I have written about the US Constitution, a gigantic mythical bird, Pluto’s demotion, Rabbi Akiva, goblins, a boy with magic sneakers, and an eclectic mix of other topics. But until My Name is Hamburger, I did not write a book which recalled my own emotions as a Jewish child of an immigrant father growing up in southern Virginia during the 1960’s.
Like Trudie in My Name is Hamburger, my father spoke with a thick German accent. His name was Otto, and just like me, he loved visiting Washington, DC to see the ornamental cherry trees at the Tidal Basin. I also remember childhood trips to Norfolk, Virginia to enjoy the beautiful azaleas in the spring. In My Name is Hamburger, Trudie and her father bond over their shared love of flowers, just as my father and I did. Every spring, I feel my father’s presence as I make an effort to visit as many blossoms as I can.
Another source of joy in my childhood was Judaism. Even though we lived in a place where Jews were a clear minority, celebrating Jewish holidays was important to my family. Friday night dinners were treasured. Shabbat candles flickering on the wall elicited peace at the end of stressful weeks. Trudie describes Shabbat dinner as a time when her family “feels braided like the challah bread Momma baked in the morning.” That’s how I felt as a child and still do as an adult, sharing Friday night dinners with loved ones.
Throughout my life, I have encountered a number of people who don’t understand why I want to be Jewish. Christianity was the norm where I grew up. I was often asked to be a spokesperson for my faith. And on many occasions, I experienced antisemitism. Christmastime was often a painful one for me. I loved to sing as a child, but like Trudie, I didn’t feel comfortable with the lyrics of the often overtly religious songs we practiced in public school. This dilemma was one I shared as part of Trudie’s story in My Name is Hamburger.
Trudie’s story is an imagined one in a fictional Virginia town. But her emotions as she struggles with bullying and self-esteem were drawn from personal experience. I hope young readers will see themselves in Trudie’s journey to self-acceptance and they will learn, as Trudie did, to declare their identity with pride.
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 Porridge Pot Goblin. She grew up in southern Virginia. Visit her online at www.jacquelinejules.com