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Five Questions With Jacqueline Prata

By Alina O'Donnell
 | Feb 12, 2019

jackie-prataJacqueline Prata is an author, activist, and high school student. When tasked to write an essay in middle school, she had no idea she was planting the seeds for her first publication. At 15 years old, she wrote and illustrated the children’s book Fortune Cookie Surprise! and was involved in every aspect of development. Fortune Cookie Surprise! is the story of a young girl who realizes she is much like a fortune cookie, unique with a special gift inside. The book sends the message that we can all make a positive impact on our world.

How did you come up with the idea for Fortune Cookie Surprise!?

“In the seventh grade, my middle school teacher assigned an ‘I Believe’ essay. It required a belief in an unexpected object, and I chose fortune cookies. I compared fortune cookies to people and my role in our family. I worked hard and was proud of the outcome. I sent my essay in to Teen Ink Magazine, a monthly online and print magazine that features teen writers. It was published online and given the Editor’s Choice Award!

“I always wanted to write a book, and the recognition inspired me to take it to the next level. I decided to make a children’s picture book targeting the 4–8-year-old age group because that was the age that I became interested in reading.”

Fortune Cookie Surprise! sends the message that all children hold unique and extraordinary gifts worth sharing. Tell us why this message is so important.

“The biggest lesson that I hope children take away is that each of us is unique with special gifts inside, just like a message inside a fortune cookie. All children complete their families like fortune cookies complete the meal. They can truly impact our world no matter their age, race, gender, or family structure. After going through the publishing process, I hope to inspire children and young readers [to know] that they too can do unexpected and great things—like writing, illustrating, and publishing a children’s book.”

You volunteer for several local charities. How do you think teachers and educators can empower young people to galvanize their strengths to make a difference? 

“There are so many ways for young people to get involved and make a difference. Teachers and educators can act as role models by setting a good example. Teens look to them for guidance and advice. They can expose us to new and different experiences and areas where we can make the biggest impact. Many of my teachers, ranging from my lower school art teacher to my middle school English teacher to my high school advisor, were instrumental in the creation of my book. They volunteered their time and expertise and, even more important, they gave me the confidence to pursue my goal.

“In terms of my volunteering, I was lucky to have found our local Special Olympics chapter from my figure skating coach at a young age. In middle school, I started coaching athletes with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics is more than an organization—it is a family—and one that provides unconditional caring. They cheer each other on in competition and support each other in times of need. My experience with them has given me an added perspective of how fortunate I have been in my life and how we can all be more aware and appreciate our differences. The font style I chose to use in Fortune Cookie Surprise! was one that was ideal not only for early readers, but for those with disabilities.

“I attended Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation Student Leadership Academy in 10th grade and learned how important it is to raise awareness for childhood cancer and how students could make a difference. I rallied interest at school, started a Lemon Club, and held a lemonade stand raising money for research. I made a documentary film, titled BitterSweet, in my broadcast journalism class that was so impactful it was shown at film festivals around the country and was featured as the lead story on Teen Kid News, an Emmy award–winning, nationally syndicated television show. It has been seen on over 200 stations and educational channels, bringing awareness to over nine million students.

“Working together with my teachers, coaches, the media, and even local organizations and politicians has taught me that you can do so much more partnering with others than alone. I think Helen Keller said it best: ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’”

What are your future plans?

“Going through the complete publishing process, from writing and illustrating to printing and marketing, has been so rewarding. I have learned to really appreciate the time and effort authors go through when creating a book and how many revisions and proofs it takes before a final product is produced. I want to continue writing and to learn more about related fields like journalism and public policy to help make an impact in our world. I really just want to make a difference and make the world a better place.”

What advice do you have for other young, aspiring authors?

“If you can dream it, you can achieve it! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily. 

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