For Skyline graduate, new career path ‘pops up’
September 16, 2013
By Neil Pierson
Jennifer DeWhitt planned to be a businesswoman or a banker, but instead she’s penning pop-up books for children.
How she traveled that perplexing path is a long story, but it’s one the 2005 Skyline High School graduate is eager to share.
During her childhood, her family moved 13 times before winding up in the Klahanie neighborhood. It was the place she felt most at home.
As it turns out, DeWhitt’s nomadic journey has influenced her in a positive way. She struggled to make friends because she was trying to be someone else.
“What you realize is other people are looking to meet you on a genuine level, too, and that’s how you form real friendships,” she said.
Now DeWhitt is trying to pass the lessons she’s learned to young children. She’s self-publishing her first book, “Jervis the Best,” a pop-up story for children entering elementary school and a new life phase.
The fictional tale follows a boy named Zach, who tries to find a new friend to replace his pet turtle, Jervis. In his attempts to win human friends, however, Zach’s imagination swerves out of control and drives away everyone he’s trying to impress.
DeWhitt’s background includes working with children in charter schools. The book’s target audience – ages 5 to 8 – often deals with issues of judgment and inadequacy, she said.
“That’s often why children will start lying, although they might think of it as exaggerating,” she said. “The point of this book is that when you start lying, it’s very difficult for people to like you.”
It wasn’t easy for DeWhitt to get the book published. She first started writing the story during her junior year at the University of Washington, where she earned a business degree in 2009. She had the help of her grandmother, Barbara Munson, who had published several books on child development issues.
Before “Jervis the Best” could be finished, though, Munson was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died in 2008, and the story set on DeWhitt’s shelves. It wasn’t until a few years later, when DeWhitt had moved on to Harvard University to pursue a master’s degree in business administration, that she caught the writing bug again.
She tried, unsuccessfully, to find an agent and a publisher. Undeterred, she created a website and began soliciting donations from friends, family members and strangers so she could afford the $5,500 publishing fee.
“One thing my grandmother taught me was perseverance,” DeWhitt said.
Her quest didn’t take long. Starting April 22, it took only 11 days for DeWhitt to raise $5,278. One person contributed $500, which earned them a “Jervis the Best” birthday party replete with a giant banner, streamers, balloons and a customized turtle cake.
“It was just incredible to see how many people supported this book,” DeWhitt said.
DeWhitt put a lot of time into studying business and finance, and she left a good job developing corporate strategies with Starbucks because “it’s just not really in tune with what I want to do,” she said. Her heart is in storytelling, and she’s in the early stages of writing two more books.
Her long-term goal is developing a series of 10 books, and she’ll be working on them from her new home in Boston, where she’s moving in October.
“The next concept is on silence and how children interpret silence negatively, and it doesn’t have to be that way at all,” DeWhitt explained.
Maybe the thing driving DeWhitt the most are memories of her grandmother. Writing “Jervis the Best” with her granddaughter gave Munson a sense of purpose toward the end of her life, DeWhitt said.
In turn, the book gave DeWhitt hope when she was in school and struggling with her career path.
Munson was a non-fiction author, which might have made the lively story of a boy and his pet turtle so enjoyable, DeWhitt said.
“She was a smart cookie and very, very blunt,” DeWhitt said, “which is great because it made her incredibly bold, and you didn’t always see that with her generation. She’d tell you exactly what she thought.”