Jayla Jumps In, written by Joy Jones, is an entertaining Middle Grade novel which invites kids to get outside and play!
Jayla is a bit lost. Her best friend moved away, and now she doesn’t know where she belongs even when her large extended family gets together over the holidays. Jayla feels trapped between bratty younger cousins and an older cousin who won’t stop bragging about her new cell phone.
One good thing about that cell phone, though, is that Jayla sees a Double Dutch video and learns her mother was a champion of the sport in her day. It takes some persistence, but once Jayla learns to jump, her world changes. And Jones allows us to experience the fun right along with her.
An author, community activist, and the founder of DC Retro Jumpers, please welcome Joy Jones to Writers’ Rumpus.
Marti Johnson: Hello Joy, I very much enjoyed your most recent novel, Jayla Jumps In. I can still hear the thwomp, thwomp, thwomp of the Double Dutch ropes hitting the pavement.
I hope this doesn’t sound tacky, but after reading your story and bio @ www.JoyJonesOnline.com, I wonder if you’ve changed your name to match your persona?
You appear to be a person who likes to inspire others, just as Jayla impacted her family and community. (Joy has assured me she hasn’t changed her name.)
You’ve written at least two other children’s books, an adult book, published numerous articles, founded a Double Dutch team, and Community Service organizations. I sense a theme of building people up by focusing on health and personal wellness throughout your endeavors. How much of you do we see in Jayla?
Joy Jones: I actually started a Double Dutch group in real life called DC Retro Jumpers. It was for adult women who wanted to relive their childhood fun – and lose a little weight. One thing led to another, and eventually, DC Retro Jumpers was being invited to give exhibitions, teach classes, lead demonstrations. Our core group is women all over the age of 50. In 2018, we were invited to tour Russia teaching Double Dutch. You would think that I must be a jump rope ninja to do all of that – far from it. Our claim to fame is that we are good at teaching others how to jump Double Dutch in minutes; we’re not competitive jumpers. When people see women of ‘a certain age’ jumping rope, making mistakes and having fun – then they know they can simply jump and have fun, too. I also think that people are more likely to cultivate healthy habits when it’s something they do because they like to do it, not because they ought to do it. Our slogan is “Not everybody likes to exercise, but everybody likes to play.”
In the story, I wanted to convey the camaraderie and collegiality of jumping rope together. I wanted Jayla to form a multigenerational team just as I did. When I started out, I was hoping for people to jump rope for their health. Now I want them to experience the joy of it.
MJ: Who doesn’t like to play? We are all still kids at heart. Which came first, the Double Dutch team you founded in DC or Jayla’s story? Did you jump rope as a kid?
JJ: Yes, I jumped rope as a kid. I did both Double Dutch and single rope. However, I’ve jumped Double Dutch more as an adult than I did when I was a girl. Jumping rope was just one of many games we played. It makes me sad that today’s children don’t seem to play much outdoors. Being out in the fresh air, playing with kids of all ages from the neighborhood, making up your own games, coming home sweaty and hungry after an active session of running or jumping or hiding or hopping or laughing — it’s a much richer experience than sitting in front of a video game or typing two-word messages on your cell phone.
MJ: I agree wholeheartedly. However, some of your readers may not feel the same. You mention a Writing Group in your credits. Tell us about your writing process.
JJ: Belonging to a writing group vastly improved me as a writer. It builds in accountability. When a meeting is coming up, that’s a motivator for me to make sure I have something ready. It forces me to concentrate and get serious. If I were not part of a group, I’d be a lot less productive. As for my process, I’m pretty haphazard. I write in snatches of time – waiting at the doctor’s office, slow periods at work, when an idea hits me during a TV commercial. As a result, I always keep a journal close by to capture those thoughts. When I have a deadline approaching, then I’m more likely to dedicate a block of time to get it done. I’ve also found that movement is good for my imagination, especially walking. (You’d think with all this physical exercise I’d be rail thin but unfortunately I love chocolate as much as I love exercise.)
MJ: I believe chocolate is a necessity of life. I don’t want to sound confrontational, but I’ve attended many conferences and workshops for Middle-Grade writers, and you successfully bend two steadfast conventions with this story. The first is to keep your character count in check, and the second is to leave out the parents. Instead, through funny yet familiar family dynamics, we are introduced to eighteen members of Jayla’s family. Did your critique partners, beta-readers, or anyone along the way suggest you were flirting with disaster by staying true to the story you wanted to tell? I ask because there are times when it’s okay to break the rules.
JJ: Actually, I eliminated members of Jayla’s family because my writing group said there were too many people. I thought I’d gotten it down to a manageable size! I had adults in the story because I wanted the Double Dutch team to be multigenerational. Jayla would have to interact with people of all ages. The challenge was to have adult characters who would be interesting to children. I hope I made them fun to meet.
MJ: Jayla’s family is indeed colorful. Maybe I’ll use Jayla Jumps In as an example to my critique group when they question my character counts. Persistence is threaded throughout the story. Did you start out focused on that theme, or did it just evolve as part of Jayla’s personality?
JJ: Persistent? You’re too kind – I thought of Jayla as being a bit of a pest sometimes. But hopefully a likeable pest.
MJ: There are times when persistence can be annoying, but Jayla didn’t push it too far. You also wrote the award-winning picture book Tambourine Moon (Simon & Schuster 1999) and Fearless Public Speaking (SparkNotes 2019), both of which focus on common fears. As a mentor on public speaking, what is your best advice to those afraid to stand in front of an audience?
JJ: When you stand in front of an audience, they’re glad it’s you up there and not them. That means they admire you. They think you’re brave. They’re rooting for you! So half the work is already done – the audience is already on your side. The feeling you call stage fright is not fear. It’s the energy you need to deliver your speech. Stage fright? Nah, think stage excitement.
MJ: I never thought about it from the audience’s perspective. Good advice. Okay, back to Jayla for one last inspired question. What’s more fun writing for children or jumping Double Dutch?
JJ: Both are fun, but jumping Double Dutch is easier. Make no mistake – writing is work. Fun – but work.
Joy, thank you so much for sharing with us today. You, Jayla, Sherry, and Tameka have me wishing my hips and knees were younger. I’d be buying some clothesline today.
JAYLA JUMPS IN
by Joy Jones
Middle Grade Novel
Albert Whitman & Company, 2020.
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