There’s nothing Booked Parties loves more than supporting the creative, energetic spirit of entrepreneurs. Recently, we are finding inspiration by setting our sights a bit lower…literally. A new crop of entrepreneurs are on the rise, but you won’t find them running their businesses between the hours of 9am to 3pm when school is in session. Gone are the days of paper boys and lemonade stands. Today’s young business owners are savvy beyond belief, successfully identifying niche business models and leveraging the power of social media in a manner that’s so natural to them, it’s staggering to us grown-ups. The children are clearly ready to lead the future.
When Jacqueline (Jackie) Prata was tasked to write an “I Believe” essay in 7thgrade, she couldn’t have known that she was crafting the outline for her first publication as an author. But, that’s exactly what happened. This past July, Jackie, now 16 years old, celebrated the publishing of “Fortune Cookie Surprise!,” a picture book based on her 7thgrade writing assignment. In the book, a young girl realizes that much like the fortune cookie served at the end of the meal, she adds the finishing touch to her family. The message, that each of us is unique with a special gift inside, teaches us that we can each have an impact on our world regardless. Jackie not only wrote and illustrated the book, but was involved in every aspect of development. She hopes to one day become a journalist.
We sat down with Jackie to learn more.
When did you begin writing and creating art?
My love for reading and writing began in lower school in 4thgrade, when I discovered the Harry Potter series. I have loved art from as far back as pre-school and find drawing and painting so relaxing. Designing the water color illustrations for “Fortune Cookie Surprise!” was one of the parts of the process that I enjoyed the most.
What motivated you to get “Fortune Cookie Surprise!” published?
In 7thgrade, my middle school teacher assigned an “I Believe” essay that required a belief in an unexpected object. I chose fortune cookies, which I compared to people and my role in our family. I worked hard and was proud of the outcome. I sent my essay in to Teen Ink Magazine, a monthly online and print publication that features teen writers. It was published online and given the “Editor’s Choice Award”! I always wanted to write a book and that recognition inspired me to take it to the next level. I turned the essay into a picture book targeting 4-8 year olds since that was the age that I first became interested in reading.
What are the biggest lessons that you hope children take from the book?
I hope children take away the lesson that each of us is unique with special gifts inside, just like a message inside a fortune cookie. All children complete their families in the same way a fortune cookie completes the meal. Everyone can truly have an impact on our world regardless of their age, race, gender or family structure. I hope to inspire my readers to know that they too can do unexpected and great things.
Are there any challenges you experienced that you didn’t anticipate throughout the process? How did you handle them?
One challenge was balancing my school work with book writing and illustrating. I focused on the book over school breaks and during the summer. This way, I had quality time to spend on it, which was helpful since I also learned that the illustration process is time consuming. I started with markers and eventually decided to use watercolor. I first needed to sketch an illustration, and then trace the sketch onto special paper before finally adding watercolor paint and an outline. I discovered that maintaining consistency across all pictures in a book is important and difficult to accomplish. I had to edit and redo my illustrations many times. The editorial process had its own challenges. I learned to dramatically reduce the number of words I used and simplify the plot. I came to understand that sometimes less is more.
You are an active volunteer for several local charities. How did your experiences impact the book?
I believe that my experience volunteering with Special Olympics, Alex’s Lemonade and Wreath’s Across America gave me added perspectives on different children and their families. For example, because of Special Olympics, I chose a font style for my book that is ideal not only for early readers, but those with disabilities, like Dyslexia as well.
My involvement also taught me that children and students can make a difference. Through the Student Leadership Academy for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, I learned not to underestimate the impact of students, who can play a major role in raising awareness for childhood cancer causes. Similarly, Wreaths Across America and their founder, Morrill Worcester, also truly inspired me. Worcester was only 12 years old when a trip to DC and Arlington National Cemetery made such an impression on him that as an adult he began this organization that today has over 60,000 volunteers who lay 1.4 million wreaths on military graves one Saturday in December each year. I enjoy participating in wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery where my grandfather, hero, and the person I dedicated the book to is buried.
Do you have plans to continue authoring and illustrating?
Going through the complete publishing process, from writing and illustrating to printing and marketing has been so rewarding. I have learned to really appreciate the time and effort authors go through when creating a book and how many revisions and proofs it takes before a final product is produced. I want to continue writing, and learning about related fields like journalism, marketing, and public relations. In the meantime, I am balancing local book signing events, which mostly take place on weekends, with school. The next signing is at Rye Ridge Shopping Center on Saturday, November 10th from noon to 3pm. I really enjoy meeting the families and seeing the children’s faces, especially when they get to open a fortune cookie (a part of my event), many for the first time!
What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?
If you can dream it, you can achieve it! You can do anything you set your mind to.
Shauna Levy is a writer, communications professional and a stay-at-home mom. Her interests include flaunting her discount shopping finds, cooking food her children reject and restoring her 125-year old home. She is currently raising three boys, ages 9, 6 and 5 alongside her husband in Chappaqua, NY.