Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Welcome to another interview in our interview series! For this interview, we were able to sit down with one of our Mom’s Choice Award-Winners, Jodi Meltzer! Jodi Meltzer is a multi-award-winning children’s book author who has also written extensively about grief, divorce, and parenting for various publications, including HuffPost, The Mighty, Scary Mommy, and Thrive Global. Before motherhood, she was an accomplished anchor/reporter who covered everyone from Hillary Clinton to The Goo Goo Dolls. She transitioned to mommy blogger in 2010―the year her baby boy swallowed her whole. She escapes his grips with sarcasm, bold coffee, and ’80s music/movie binges with her rescue dog curled up on her lap. Keep reading to find out more about Jodi and her multi-award-winning children’s books, including her most recent Mom’s Choice Award-Winning one, Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are!
MCA: Hi Jodi, thank you for joining us for an interview today. Congratulations on winning another Mom’s Choice Award! Can we first start the interview out by finding out about what your path to becoming an author was like, and what were the things that inspired you on that path?
Jodi: I knew I had to write a children’s book after my beloved mom died of ovarian cancer. We were always inseparable, but the countless hours I spent as her sole caregiver made us even closer.
It was during that time she told me her dream was to write a children’s book. She didn’t live to take that first step, so I had to take it for her. The only problem was I was overwhelmed by grief and struggled to come up with an idea.
Thankfully, my son—who was four at the time—is an inquisitive child. It seemed like he was clocking one million questions a minute at that age, and one of them instantly cured my writer’s block.
“Mom, what was it like when I lived in your belly?” What a question! It’s one every child asks at some point.
When You Lived in My Belly—also a Gold Mom’s Choice Award winner—is a keepsake that features kid-friendly descriptions of the developmental milestones babies reach in utero, coupled with the corresponding physical and emotional changes experienced by moms. It gives kids a glimpse into a past they can’t remember and takes moms back to a time they will never forget. It did pretty well sales-wise, so I was encouraged to write Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are.
Prior to motherhood, I worked on two films in Boston, for the syndicated newsmagazine Inside Edition in New York City, and in Burlington, Vermont, as a television anchor/reporter, among other positions. I was all over the place, working endlessly and tirelessly to get ahead. When I decided it was finally time to get pregnant at age 37, I shifted my career accordingly. I knew I would only have one biological child, and I wanted to take a couple of years off to be a mom.
The only problem was my mind never fully got on board with my plan. I always say I am so grateful there are no thought bubbles above my head because my internal banter is quite colorful.
Even exhausted, I wasn’t the type who could sleep when my baby slept. A master multitasker, I’d pen funny stories and brilliant mom tips—filing my baby’s nails on the “Daddy’s scratchy face” page of his Pat the Bunny book, for example. I decided I wanted to write about my experience as a mom…not in terms of logging feeding times (I was the worst at tracking that type of information), but how this new gig swallowed me whole.
I decided to launch a blog, Mommy Dish, and I gained some traction. Turns out there are quite a few moms who are unapologetically themselves, fluent in sarcasm, and unafraid to admit they’re hanging by the thinnest of threads. They are my people. I found them through writing.
As my readership grew, I was invited to guest post on other sites, boosting my credibility. I started pitching stories to large publications and websites to keep getting my name out there. My first big hit was a piece I wrote after the Boston Marathon bombing called “We Are Boston.” A viral post I penned for HuffPost followed shortly thereafter, “Top Ten Rules for Dating a Single or Divorced Mom.”
Now, I write for both adults and children.
MCA: It is always interesting to hear about the changing career trajectories that new parents experience. Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are is a touching story that helps kids cope with grief, loss, and longing in an enchanting way, sparking meaningful conversations about the everlasting power of love. How did the Coronavirus Pandemic and your personal experience with loss inspire Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are?
Jodi: I decided to write Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are after a frenemy inexplicably made fun of my son for having a dead father.
The unprompted jab happened while my son was working with a group of kids in music class. Just four students in a back part of the room, out of the teacher’s earshot. My son saw an unattended recorder and wondered if someone was missing it. “Does anyone know whose recorder that is?” he wondered aloud. The kids shrugged…all except for one of them.
“It must be your father’s recorder,” a student responded, in a snide tone. “Oh, wait, I forgot. You don’t have a father.”
That cruel remark hurt his heart, and it shattered mine.
I decided then and there that I had to write a children’s book about grief, to give kids like mine an outlet for understanding and support, and for kids like his tormentor who need to be enlightened about a subject that’s not discussed nearly enough.
COVID-19 underscored the need for Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are; the pandemic inspired me to begin the writing process.
In the US alone, an estimated 119,000 children have lost a primary caregiver due to COVID-19, a heartbreaking byproduct of the ongoing pandemic. Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are is for them and for all kids who grieve a person or a pet. It’s also for anyone who values lessons on eternal love, connectivity, and compassion.
If you read Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are, there is a nod to scientists in there. I included it because of the Coronavirus pandemic. You heard it here first! I haven’t disclosed that in other interviews yet.
MCA: Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are?
Jodi: My book highlights a shared phenomenon both of my kids experienced more than one decade apart.
I took an atypical path to motherhood. Unexpectedly, I met and later married a widower at age 32. The proverbial stork dropped a sweet 8-year-old girl on my doorstep first — one who had lost her beautiful mother at age 4.
I distinctly remember long car rides with her where she would look out the window and think a star was following her on the way home. “That’s my mom checking up on me, reminding me that she loves me,” she’d say.
Fast forward 12 years later. I am driving in the car with my son after a long day at the beach. “Mom, there’s a star that looks like it’s following me,” he said.
A tear sprang to my eye.
He associated the star with his dad who passed after a heartbreakingly cruel battle with kidney cancer (and then expanded the possibility of it representing our sweet cat, Orangina, or one of his three grandparents who died). Two grieving kids, more than one decade apart, saw the same thing. They saw what they needed to see to self-soothe, to feel a connection, to believe that love transcends physical distance.
I had to share their story with other children who might need to see the star, too.
MCA: What are some of the key lessons found in Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are?
Jodi: Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are teaches the reader many lessons. Chief among them are kindness, empathy, and connectivity. Some crippling pain is invisible, but those in the throes of it deserve understanding and compassion. In my opinion, is our collective responsibility as parents to raise humans who support other humans, to leave this world a better place than we experienced it.
It is my sincere hope that increasing awareness and understanding of childhood grief will spare other kids some insensitive and unkind remarks that stung both of my children during their formative years.
MCA: How can books about grief, loss, and longing such as Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are help children name their emotions and develop coping strategies?
Jodi: Both of my kids shared common feelings and experiences coping with the unimaginable loss of a parent, even though they are more than a decade apart.
I think the connector between the two was a feeling of isolation. At times, they both felt so alone in their grief because they didn’t have friends or classmates who could relate to their pain or emotions. It made them feel different from their peers. As their mom, I searched for books and resources to better address these completely understandable feelings, and I often came up short.
Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are is a tribute to my children; it’s a book they needed to read at different points of their lives. It taps into kids’ sense of wonder with an imaginative point of view, helping them discover that the connection they share with the person or pet who died transcends the space between them.
Heartfelt and reassuring, Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are helps kids cope with grief, loss, and longing in an enchanting way, sparking meaningful conversations about the everlasting power of love. Children can reflect on their unbreakable bond with an “I Remember” page at the end of the beautifully illustrated book, providing comfort during trying times.
MCA: How has Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are helped you and your children in your personal journey through grief, loss, and longing?
Jodi: For me, writing Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are was a cathartic process. There were so many nights I’d lie awake feeling helpless as we waded through such intense grief as a family. I was 40 when my beloved mom died, and it truly gutted me. I didn’t think anything could hurt as much, but watching my kids go through that pain absolutely compares.
I involved my kids throughout the creation of Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are. Now 24- and 11-years-old, they are not shy with their opinions (a trait they got from me!). Bringing a book to market is an intense and time-consuming effort, and they were with me every step of the way. The book inspired many soul-affirming conversations in my home. They’re excited other kids will soon read the pages we all had a hand in.
I am on a quest to normalize grief. Even though it’s a great equalizer—we will all experience it at some point in life—adults and children alike are afraid to discuss it. Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are is a resource to inspire those much-needed talks.
MCA: Can you tell us about the special foreword penned in Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are by Multi-Platinum Singer, Songwriter, and Celebrity, Andy Grammer?
Jodi: My always charismatic and unforgettable son told multi-platinum singer/songwriter Andy Grammer he’s available to play drums on his next tour before I approached him about writing the foreword for Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are. How could he possibly reach the singer of hits like “Keep Your Head Up” and “Good To Be Alive” and “Don’t Give Up On Me?”
The incomparable Experience Camps, where young children who lost a parent, like my son did, join together to better process their profound grief with people who “get it.” They made the connection.
Andy lost his beautiful mom when he was in his twenties. He hosted an intimate concert for 1,000 deserving kids in 2020. My son was chosen as a panelist to ask him a question, and, true to form, he gave him a good laugh.
The exchange between Andy and my son inspired me to reach out to his team before Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are was published. I thought he’d be the perfect person to deliver a poignant and powerful foreword, and he did not disappoint.
“My mother loved cake, so when my family and I miss her, we bake a cake in her honor,” Grammar wrote. “Whether it is finding that connection, looking at a shining star, listening to a special song, or eating a piece of cake, I hope this book helps give you permission to miss your special someone in your own unique way.”
MCA: That is so incredibly heartwarming, thank you for giving us that amazing backstory! Thank you for a wonderful interview as well. Please keep MCA posted on what is up next for you!
You can learn more about Jodi Meltzer and her award-winning book, Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are, by visiting her MCA Shop pages. You can also visit her amazon pages When You Lived in My Belly and Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are, or visit her website jodimeltzer.com.