Following the Tracks of a Story Idea

Guest Post by Jacqueline Jules

One of my first books for young readers, Once Upon a Shabbos (Kar-Ben, 1998) was a story from Appalachia that I reimagined in a Jewish Brooklyn home with a Bubbe and a Zayde. After that, I adapted a Hasidic tale about a giant mythological bird called the Ziz into The Hardest Word (Kar-Ben, 2001). The Ziz subsequently appeared in three other books with the same publisher. I have also used folklore motifs from around the world to create original tales in Never Say a Mean Word Again (Wisdom Tales, 2014 ), Feathers for Peacock (Wisdom Tales, 2016), and The Generous Fish (Wisdom Tales, 2020). Needless to say, I love folklore and look to it for inspiration for my books.  

However, finding a tale or a topic that intrigues me is only the first step. Sometimes it takes years from my original inspiration to the final product. In 2004, I was drawn to a traditional text describing invisible goblins who leave tracks resembling the three-toed footprint of a rooster. If you follow the tracks, you can find the goblin. 

My first attempt to write a picture book about these mischievous spirits began with a story set in an eastern European village with Jewish characters frightened by goblins who snatched kerchiefs, dumped flour, and made shrill noises. The villagers in my first drafts were so frightened they hid under beds and bemoaned the ability to fight what couldn’t be seen. Two brave children saved the day by convincing the adults to listen to them. 

While the story attracted some interest from editors, it never sold. After many revisions to make it marketable, I put the manuscript in a virtual drawer. Sixteen years later, looking for a project to keep me occupied during pandemic isolation, I opened the file on my computer. Reading it over, I realized I still loved the image of an invisible goblin who left rooster tracks. But my manuscript, at 1500 words, was way too long for a picture book. It needed major streamlining. Looking critically at the text after so many years, I could see the story was peopled with too many adults. By eliminating them, I could focus on the two child characters. As I continued to revise, original plot details disappeared. A story emerged of a brother and sister who work together to trap a goblin in their home. My story, pared down to 600 words, became ready for my writing group’s feedback. Happily, they approved. But now I faced the goblin of self-doubt! Would an editor like it? Particularly, an editor who had passed on an earlier project but expressed an interest in seeing more of my work. I was afraid of embarrassing myself. Would goblins appeal to this editor?  

It took me several months to find the courage to submit. When I finally did, the response was positive. Apples & Honey Press thought the subject was fun but had some editing ideas. Once again, my original idea blossomed with new details and themes. My young heroes, who in first drafts simply battled their fears, now chased away a goblin who was threatening their mother’s well-deserved rest and their peaceful Shabbat dinner. Looking back, I realize this particular picture book must have gone through over 50 full rewrites before being released as The Porridge-Pot Goblin in September 2022. I am amazed to note that the final manuscript doesn’t include one line from the original version! While the eastern European setting remains, the story takes place in a single home rather than among the residents of a village. The characters use a different method to defeat the goblin. To successfully revise my story, I had to defeat goblins, too. Namely, a plot that didn’t work and adult characters who didn’t connect with young readers. Like the three-toed tracks of a goblin, I kept following my ideas until they led me to a better story. If you’re struggling with a story, I hope my example inspires you to persevere through the challenging, goblin-filled tracks of revision.

BIO: Jacqueline Jules is the author of fifty books for young readers including the award-winning Zapato Power series and the Sofia Martinez series.  Her picture book, The Porridge-Pot Goblin, was released in September 2022 by Apples & Honey Press. Visit her online at


  1. I’ve always been drawn to folklore too, and I’m in awe of your ability to turn tales from around the world into engaging stories for young children. Thank you for sharing your wisdom on Writers’ Rumpus!


  2. Jacqueline, what a satisfying writing journey this must have been. Revisiting and revising is so important. I would love to read this story—it sounds one-of-a-kind!


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