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Jacob Sager Weinstein

As a child

My school was next door to the Washington National Cathedral, and it was originally founded to educate choirboys. By the time I got there, you didn’t have to be in the choir to attend, which is a good thing. I was a pretty bad singer as a kid! (I’m never going to have a number one single, but after decades of practice, I can now usually stay in tune.) Growing up in Washington, DC, it seemed perfectly natural to know kids whose parents were congressmen, ambassadors, and even (in one case) the Vice President of the United States. It was only when I went to college that I realized how unusual that aspect of my childhood had been. My dad was a lawyer, and my mom was a teacher. But she didn’t teach in my school. In fact, she didn’t even teach kids – she taught in nursing homes and retirement homes, because she believed that you should keep learning new things for your entire life. My school had a dress code but no uniform. That meant you had to wear a blazer and a tie, but they could be any blazer and tie you wanted. I took advantage of this by collecting the ugliest and strangest ties I could find, and wearing a different one every day. Once I even cut a necktie-shaped leaf off a houseplant and wore that. When we went on family vacations, I’d always bring one extra bag just to carry books. My favourite writers included Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken, CS Lewis, Robin McKinley, Ellen Raskin, Daniel Pinkwater, Beverly Cleary, Edward Eager, Sid Fleischman, Susan Cooper, and Diana Wynne Jones. I also loved many authors whose works were aimed at grownups— especially science fiction authors like Douglas Adams, Robert Heinlein, Harry Harrison, Larry Niven, and Robert Silverberg, and mystery authors like Dashiell Hammet, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, and Rex Stout. (I know that’s a lot of favourite authors. I read a lot of books!) The first story I remember writing was in Year 4 (or “fourth grade,” as we called it in America). My teacher Mrs. Ihde had us read Flat Stanley and then write our own story about a flat person. Mine was called Mrs. Ihde Vs. Harry The Mad Painter. It told the story of how Mrs. Ihde got trampled flat by a bunch of kids rushing outside for recess. It wasn’t much different from Flat Stanley; like Stanley, Flat Mrs. Ihde ended up posing as a painting to catch a baddie. Nonetheless, Mrs. Ihde loved it and had me read it to the class. I still remember how proud I felt. Despite that success, I wanted to be a doctor. That lasted until, at twelve years old, I took my first biology course, and I realized how many facts doctors had to learn. I decided I’d prefer a job where I could make things up.

As an adult

I went to Princeton University, where I studied with some amazing writers, including Toni Morrison, Mary Morris, and Russell Banks. I also wrote for a student theatre group and performed improvisational comedy. I toyed with the idea of being a mathematics major, and I took some fairly complex maths courses, but ultimately, I focused on literature and creative writing. After I graduated university, I moved to Los Angeles, got a master’s degree in screenwriting, and pursued a career in show business. I eventually got a job on a TV show, but after a few years, my wife Lauren got a job offer in London. She had followed me to Los Angeles so I could pursue my career, and now it was my turn to follow her. We moved to London, where she went to work for Transport for London, and I tried all different kinds of writing. I wrote a script for the BBC, but it never got made. I sold some movie scripts, but they never got made, either. I did manage to publish three books which I wrote with a friend, and one which I wrote by myself. Originally, we were just going to live in London for two years. We liked it so much that we extended it to three years… and then four… and then five… and now we’ve been in London for thirteen years. I ended up becoming a joint citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom. We have two kids. They were both born here, and they’re both joint citizens, too. We make a lot of trips back to the US so they can see their aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins.

As an artist

I work in a very small office with a very large bookshelf. It’s in my flat, just down the hall from my bedroom, which means I can commute to work in my pyjamas. (Of course, anyone can commute to work in their pyjamas, but people who have to take the Tube might get funny looks.) Every time I start writing something new – whether it’s a picture book or a novel or a screenplay – I make a playlist of songs that are somehow related to that project. Maybe the lyrics tie in to the subject; maybe the music feels like one of the characters. From then on, every time I work on that project, I listen to that playlist. After a few days, I’ve conditioned myself so that as soon as I hear the first song, I’m in the mood to write. And if I’m working on a serious picture book in the morning and a silly novel in the afternoon, I can just change playlists and immediately put myself in the right frame of mind. The only problem is that I’ve been doing this for decades, and now there are hundreds of songs that I can’t listen to without feeling like I’m supposed to be working on something. I wrote my first three books with my friend Matthew David Brozik. We thought we were writing for grownups, although we’ve discovered that lots of kids like them: The Government Manual for New Superheroes, The Government Manual for New Wizards, and The Government Manual for New Pirates. My fourth book (which I wrote on my own) is definitely for grownups. It’s a parody of pregnancy and parenting books, called How Not To Kill Your Baby.

Things you didn’t know about Jacob Sager Weinstein

  1. I can juggle, but no more than three balls at a time.
  2. My favorite food is bread pudding. On my birthday, instead of a cake, I always ask for bread pudding with candles stuck in it. (TIP: When you make bread pudding, always put lots of chocolate chunks in it, whether or not the recipe calls for it.)
  3. When I was a kid, I took the lid off the toilet at home and figured out how it worked, and I got pretty good at fixing it. In fact, when I went to summer camp, the counsellors would sometimes call me over to fix broken toilets instead of calling a plumber.
  4. I am very absent minded. Once at school, I sat at a desk for several minutes trying to write with my right hand, getting more and more frustrated, until I finally remembered that I am left handed.
  5. Actually, I’m only left handed when I’m sitting down; I’m ambidextrous when I stand up and write on a whiteboard. In fact, when I’m standing up, I can write in mirror-writing with one hand at the same time I’m writing normally with the other.
  6. The first author I remember meeting was Daniel Pinkwater, who came to speak at my local children’s bookstore. After his talk, he opened up an umbrella, then closed it with his head inside. I don’t remember anything else he said or did, but I remember him sitting there with his head inside an umbrella. More than thirty years later, he is still one of my favourite writers, and I can’t believe I’m one of his fellow Walker authors!
  7. My great-grandfather moved from Poland to Austria. My grandfather and my mother moved from Austria to America. I moved from America to the UK. That makes me a fourth-generation immigrant.
  8. Iway amway eallray oodgay atway eakingspay igpay atinlay.
  9. When I was a teenager, we had a dog named Phred. If you said. “Hel

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