INTERVIEW | Jean Alicia Elster

Jean, describe yourself—

Formerly an attorney, I am a professional writer with a focus on writing for children, middle graders, and young adults. I am also an editor, essayist, writing instructor, and grant writer. While wearing each of these hats is fulfilling in its own way, I find my greatest joy in writing for youth and young adults.

How do you find time to connect with God?

My most focused time with God is during my morning prayer and devotional time. I find that if I do not have this one-on-one time in the morning, it gets crowded out of my day. So, I make sure that either before or after my morning physical exercise routine, I have my private time with God.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse/quote you wish to share?

One of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:8—Finally brethren, whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, if there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

This verse is a good reminder for writers—our job, in whatever we write, should be to lift up and not drag down the reader.

Tell us about your current books.
My most recent book—Who’s Jim Hines?—is based upon real events in my family’s history. It is a coming of age story where twelve-year-old Douglas Ford, Jr. comes to terms with the racial realities of Depression-era Detroit. However, my current books also include the Joe Joe in the City series. In each volume of this series, ten-year-old Joe Joe Rawlings learns life lessons when he reads about heroes from African American history. In Just Call Me Joe Joe, he reads the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues; in I Have a Dream, Too! Joe Joe reads about Mary McLeod Bethune; in I’ll Fly My Own Plane he learns about the Tuskegee Airmen; and in I’ll Do the Right Thing, he discovers the legacy of Ralph Bunche.

What influenced you to write the Joe Joe in the City series?
My husband and I faced real concerns as parents raising two children in an urban environment. It was incumbent upon us to prepare our children to respond appropriately to negative peer pressure, racial stereotypes, and the pervasive drug and gang cultures. I wanted to address those concerns in a set of books for young readers that would be entertaining and edifying for the youngsters and a source of support and reinforcement for parents and other caregivers.

What valuable lessons do you want readers to learn from the Joe Joe in the City series?

Each volume in the Joe Joe in the City series offers a crucial lesson for youth, particularly urban youth. Joe Joe summons up the courage to return and face a local shopkeeper who accuses him of being a part of a gang that has just trashed his store in Just Call Me Joe Joe.
In I Have a Dream, Too!, Joe Joe realizes that with hard work, dreams can come true. I’ll Fly My Own Plane finds Joe Joe turning away from an opportunity to make “quick, easy money.” And, Joe Joe learns the value of being a peacemaker in I’ll Do the Right Thing.

What’s next for you?

During 2010, I look forward to completing volume one of a trilogy of teen books. In addition, I will begin working on a companion book to Who Jim Hines?. I also have a full schedule of appearances at libraries, conferences, and museums throughout the spring. At these events, I look forward to connecting with readers of my books and the public at large.

Where can visitors find you online?

Online readers can contact me and find updates about my books and appearances via my website They can also find information about me at my publishers’ websites and