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5 Questions With... J.M. Bedell

by J.M. Bedell
September 13, 2013
J.M. Bedell is a nonfiction writer and the author of several books for young readers, including SO, YOU WANT TO BE A CHEF?, FINDING COURAGE: HISTORY’S YOUNG HEROES AND THEIR AMAZING DEEDS, COMBATING TERRORISM, TEENS IN PAKISTAN and HILDUR, QUEEN OF THE ELVES. She is also a ghost writer of nonfiction books and web articles, as well as a writer and editor for other nonfiction projects like company training manuals. When she is not focused on a nonfiction project, she loves to research and write middle grade historical fiction, like SAVING LIBERTY. She lives in Gaston, Oregon with her husband, two dogs, six goats, nine chickens and a flock of noisy guinea fowl. For more information, visit her website at www.jmbedell.com.

Your upcoming book SO, YOU WANT TO BE A CHEF? describes a step by step path to becoming a chef. Why is it important for children to have big dreams, but also attainable and actionable goals?

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A CHEF? is about more than becoming a chef. It’s an encyclopedia of careers that make up the world of the culinary arts. Becoming a chef is the most visible career (think reality television), but there are many career opportunities surrounding food that kids will find interesting.

Children seem to automatically think big and dream big. Some of that comes from what they see on television or in their everyday lives, and some of it comes from their parents’ influence and expectations. Their dreams need to be encouraged. Wanting to star in a major motion picture, become an Olympic athlete, run for President of the United States, or become a world-famous chef, gets them thinking about the future and what they might want to do when they grow up.

Without discouraging the big dream, I think parents and teachers can guide kids and give them opportunities to test whether or not their dream is right for them. If they want to be an actor, encourage them to participate in theater classes or audition for commercials. If they want to be the President, then suggest they take debate classes or run for student council. Winning a part in a play or losing a school election are important learning experiences. It’s not about the winning or the losing; it’s about trying…taking a chance no matter the outcome. One kid may learn that he hates being in front of an audience, and the other may learn that even though he lost the election, he really loved the campaign.

As kids learn their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, they also need someone to come alongside and say, “Hey, I see you’re interested in cooking. Becoming a chef is only one career in that field. Let me show you some other options.” All the books in the Be What You Want series are written with that idea in mind—offering other options to high profile career choices. It’s important that kids understand that every career, from being an actor to being a doctor, veterinarian, or chef, has a superset of careers surrounding them that can be equally interesting, challenging, and rewarding. And, maybe, there’s one that fits their personality, talents, and interests a bit better.

As you spoke to young chefs for your book, what did you notice as an inspiration or boost that helped them achieve their success?

The kids that I interviewed are amazing! They don’t seem to let anything stand in their way. However, I did notice that they all had two things in common. First, they have supportive adults or mentors in their lives. Someone, not necessarily their parents, who encouraged, taught and guided them along the way. In my years as a mentor and a court appointed special advocate, I’ve seen how just one truly interested adult can change the life of a kid in ways no one ever imagined. Given the right encouragement, any kid can achieve their dream.

Second, they love the work and enjoy the process. It isn’t enough to like to cook. You need to enjoy the heat of the kitchen, the challenge of getting meals out on time, etc…. Some of the young chefs also like to help and teach others. For example, Dominick Cura has Celiac disease. He loves to cook and create recipes, but his main motivation is helping other celiac kids not feel deprived of the foods they love most. He offers them alternative options and shows them that they can take control of their disease and enjoy life. It’s important that young adults, who are considering their career choices, look for mentors and strive to understand as much about the work and the process as possible.

What myths or misconceptions about growing up to be a chef might your book dispel?

Popular reality-television cooking shows have piqued kids’ interest in the culinary arts. However, those shows give a distorted view of what it really takes to succeed in the industry. Through the voices of the adults and kids I interviewed, anyone who reads the book will understand that it takes not only a passion for food, but a lot of hard work and long hours to excel in the business. I think kids need to know that being the best, in whatever career they choose, takes hard work, perseverance, and a lot of plain old luck. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Teach kids to keep their eye on the goal, walk steadily toward it, enjoy the journey, and then grab whatever opportunities come their way. That way, even if they never reach their end goal, they’ve enjoyed the ride.

Your recently updated and expanded book FINDING COURAGE: HISTORY’S YOUNG HEROES AND THEIR AMAZING DEEDS focuses on young people who do world-changing things. How did you decide to focus on role models students could emulate now as opposed to when they grow up?

I LOVE this book! It was my first published work, and all these years later, I think every middle grade teacher should have a copy of it on their bookshelf. It’s sad that it’s no longer in print and only available as an eBook. That said, it’s still worth reading and will give teachers and librarians a lot of stories to share with their students.

As I was searching for ideas for a book, I noticed that there were a lot of biographies written about amazing adults and how they impacted world events. What I wasn’t seeing were biographies about amazing kids and how they changed the world. Were they out there? I thought there must be some, but who were they?

I started my research and sure enough, I found a bunch of them. They just weren’t collected in a single spot. As I sifted through my files of potential candidates, I settled on two criteria. The kids in FINDING COURAGE had to have survived hardship and then done something to improve the lives of others. Like Arn Chorn Pond, who survived the Khmer Rouge (that killed almost every educated/artistic person in Cambodia) and then made it his life’s work to preserve his country’s artistic heritage. With those two criteria in mind, I chose my subjects and wrote the book. The expanded eBook includes new stories that I found after the original publication.

I think kids need to know that they are strong; that they can survive; and that there is a way to overcome traumatic experiences. So many kids live in really tough situations. They live in poverty, suffer from abuse, or struggle to survive in a nation at war. If they can read about other kids who have survived equally hard circumstances, then maybe they will draw strength from their stories.

Our theme on the blog for the month of September is “Invent Your Future.” Was there a point in your reading or education that inspired you to become an author?

I started out studying to become a high school English teacher. Early on, I had a chance to substitute teach and quickly realized that I wasn’t cut out for the daily grind of the classroom. I also realized that in all my college classes, it was the writing that I enjoyed the most. Then, in my junior year, I had an amazing writing teacher. She was the one person who encouraged me to follow my dream and pursue a career in writing.

There are many options in the writing field, technical writers, journalists, public relations, marketing and a lot more. Writing books is only a subset of the field. I spent several years in public relations before deciding that I wanted to write books. What I learned was that I love the process. I love taking an idea, immersing myself in the research, and then organizing and writing the book. I’ve written some fiction like my Revolutionary War novel, SAVING LIBERTY, but I feel most comfortable with nonfiction.

I think my journey shows how careers often develop. You start out on one path, and sometimes end up, through the influence of many people, someplace altogether different.  It’s about enjoying the journey and being willing to make course changes, if needed, along the way.  

 

© 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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