Review Blog

Oct 09 2014

How I AM JACK began

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By Susanne Gervay
I've had an extraordinary journey with my four I AM JACK books. I had no idea I was writing a series. If I did I would have baulked at taking 14 years to complete the 4 books. It has to be one of the longest series written.
I had no idea that the name JACK would become the most popular boy name and the title of endless new book series today. If I did I would have baulked at naming my books I AM JACK.
I had no idea that the emotionally painful journey of my son whose real name is James, would translate into a rite-of-passage anti school bullying series published and translated into many languages.
I had no idea that I AM JACK would be adapted into a play by the acclaimed Monkey Baa Theatre and performed in Sydney, across Australia, at literature festivals and the USA nearly every year since 2008. In 2015 it will be performing in all Australian states and in the USA again.
I had no idea that so many organizations would embrace the I AM JACK books using them in their literacy, anti bullying and ethics programs - organizations like Room to Read, Life Education Australia, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, The Cancer Council, Courage to Care, schools and educational institutions. BEING JACK advocates for 'Room to Read' as one way to promote literacy in the developing world. I am very proud of that.
I had no idea that I would sign an option for a TV series with the producer of the classic TV series 'Around the twist' and 'Animalia.'
However I would have given up all the amazing success of my I AM JACK books, for my son not to be bullied. But then, the I AM JACK books would not have reached the many 100,000s of young people and families. After my son won against bullying with the support of his family, schools, friends and his own courage, I asked him if I could write I AM JACK. It had been such a hard journey and I would have accepted his decision for this to remain private. However my beautiful son said - 'Yes mum. Write it for other kids. For kids who get bullied, the kids who bully, teachers, parents, everyone. So it's better.'
The I AM JACK books are 'fiction' but they are informed by my chaotic and at times hilarious and challenging life with my mix-master family and community. While I am a mother first, an author second, my background is in education as a consultant specializing in child growth and development. It underpins the I AM JACK books.
Through the I AM JACK books, I welcome readers into my home and life. Each I AM JACK book came out of the challenges my son faced within our family - bullying, refugees, divorce, blending families, cancer, aging grandparents, abandonment by a father. However there's also that great sense of curiosity, joy, growth. There's friendship, siblings, good times, courage, love and even Nanna's purple underpants. Wish she hadn't bought them for everyone.
I have spoken across Australia and the world, from India, Kiribati, Singapore, China, Hong Kong to USA about the I AM JACK books, the characters and journeys. I receive so many emails that touch me: -

Hello Susanne Gervay.
I am writing about a current book I have bought and read, I AM JACK. I get bullied at school almost every day and it makes me sick. I just didn't feel like going to school. I pretended to be sick and stay home for the day. I've talked to the School Councillor, I've tried to tell my mum, I've thought of getting back at the bullies, but all these things don't seem to work. But I AM JACK inspired me to tell everyone that I am bullied. It makes me feel great and today I treated my mother with respect (I wasn't doing that lately because I was fed up with everyone) and I think she knows there is something fishy going on. I just want to thank you for what you have done and I think you are a great writer. I will enjoy reading all your other books.
Yours sincerely,
Lowana

P.S. Please write back to . . .

From a Teacher
The cemetery scene really resonated with Maisam as both his parents died in Afghanistan. I think he is comforted by the thought that they are watching over him and that he can talk to them at anytime, just like you do with your dad (Grandad in the I AM JACK books)
Once again, I thank you and 5P thanks you too.

Jack's a kid - an everyman. You just know him and cheer for him even when he's discovering fungus in one of his experiments or taking photos of waddly Nanna without her teeth or telling one of his jokes. He's a great comedian. He plays soccer, but he's into footy too, surfing and sport. Einstein's his hero.
But underlying the jokes and all things JACK, is that deep heart kids have. He'd put his life down for his family and his mates and the girl-next-door Anna. He's the man of the house, but wants to know who his father is. He's the kid who was bullied like many kids, survived with the support of family and friends and became the Jack who stands beside others. He stands beside his Mum when she faces breast cancer. He stands beside his mate Christopher when he's attacked for being Asian. He even stands beside his sister Samantha, when she's irritating him with yet another dog project.
Like all my I AM JACK books, they stand alone, but are also connected with Jack's sense of the world as he grows up from 11 to 13. The final I AM JACK book, called BEING JACK ties up all those loose ends and answers the questions so many kids have asked me over the years. What happens between Jack and Anna? Will Jack become friends with George Hamel the boy who bullied him? Does he play football after all? Does he accept his step brother Leo in the family?
However BEING JACK is driven by three powerful themes - the love of family and friends; the search for Jack's father; and standing up against bullying.
My son has grown up now, married a girl like 'Anna' and has his own baby boy. He was changed by being bullied. He worked through it with all our support and today he's his own person with values that advocate for a safer world. I am very proud of him.
Susanne Gervay

I am Jack: the beginning - book 1
Super Jack - book 2
Always Jack - book 3
Being Jack: the conclusion - book 4

www.roomtoread.org/australia
www.monkeybaa.com.au
www.sgervay.com
www.sgervay.com/blog

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