Seven Questions For . . . Jia-Rui Cook

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club

Jia-Rui with her daughters

Jia-Rui with her daughters

Q: What do you do?

I ask a lot of questions for a living. I think of myself as a translator of complicated ideas — through writing, editing, helping to produce videos, and planning events. Right now, I’m the supervisor of news events and projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This means I help pull together long-term projects in the news office, like planning the media activities around the end of the Cassini mission. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and on Sept. 15, 2017, it will fly into the atmosphere of the Ringed Planet and be squeezed to death by its atmosphere.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I get to be part of exploring new worlds and imagine what it might be like at places like Saturn’s moon Enceladus or interstellar space. And then I figure out how to explain that to the wider world.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

At NASA and JPL, there are a million acronyms. When I first started working here, there were entire conversations where every other word was some abbreviation I didn’t know. This can be humbling — especially for someone who already felt like an outsider because I was an American History and Literature major among engineering, geology, planetary science, and astrophysics geniuses. But I like learning new things, so there’s a delight in figuring out what people are really talking about.

Image of Saturn taken by the Cassini mission. Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Image of Saturn taken by the Cassini mission. Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

Today, my 5-year-old was entertaining herself in the back of the car reciting witches’ lines from Macbeth — “Double, double, toil and trouble! Fire burn and cauldron bubble!” I’m just proud that I’ve been able to share something I love with her and it actually stuck. I don’t know how much she really understands of Macbeth — I can see her drifting off during the scenes that don’t have much action. She asked me whether there was a picture-book version. Do you have a recommendation, YiLing?

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My good friend Erika is a writer and a teacher and about to have twins. She’s so committed to keeping up with her reporting and writing, despite the fact that she has (and will have) an enormous amount of responsibility parenting. Sometimes I think I’m tired, but she’s still going and that makes me think I can, too.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Michelle Obama: eloquent, graceful under pressure, and not afraid to do “The Dougie” in public.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book. When I went back to it recently to read it to my daughters, I realized that some of the roles for boys and girls were … um … dated. But the drawings of animals are still pretty delightful and the story of “Pig Will” and “Pig Won’t” is still a great one.

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to writegirl, the charity chosen by Jia-Rui, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

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