James Patterson further expands his children’s fiction offerings with the launch of Jimmy Patterson, a Little, Brown imprint that will encompass books written by Patterson as well as other authors. Patterson’s previously published Little, Brown books for young readers will be folded into the new imprint as they come up for reprint, and the author will invest his proceeds from the sales of the imprint’s books into reading initiatives.

The debut original Jimmy Patterson release is Jacky Ha-Ha, first in a middle-grade series written by Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, and illustrated by Kerascoët, a pseudonym used by French illustrators Marie Pommepuy and Sébastian Cosset. Due March 21 with a 350,000-copy first printing, the novel is set at the Jersey Shore in 1990. It centers on 12-year-old Jacky, once teased for her stutter, who uses pranks and jokes to fit in with her peers – and to make sure they laugh with her rather than at her. Jacky is also coping with an unsettled family life: her mother has been deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield, and her father is mysteriously absent much of the time, leaving the seventh grader and her six sisters adrift with little guidance.

PW spoke with Patterson about the novel – and this latest chapter in his publishing life.

What sparked the premise of Jacky Ha-Ha?

Part of the novel’s inspiration was that I find comedians fascinating in terms of their ability to make us laugh. I think, with the best of them, the comedy comes from a deep placein their heads, hearts, and soulsand I find that so interesting. I wrote I Funny, a middle-grade novel about a wheelchair-bound, aspiring young comedian, and I have an adult novel in the works about a stand-up comedian in Chicago. I think exploring who comedians are and what they do is fascinating.

I’m not sure what came firstthe idea of a kid interested in comedy or the character of a girl who was tortured in elementary school because of her stutter. Since her last name is Hart, her classmates gave her the nickname “Jacky Ha-ha.” And she decides to turn that teasing and her relationship with classmates around by being very funny. I think that is a mechanism that many kids use to be accepted.

Why the decision to give the story a female protagonist?

I was drawn to the idea of a family situation involving sisters whose mother is away serving in a war zone, which is obviously terrifying to them, and whose dad is pretty much absent. The girls have to bond to survivethere’s a tiny bit of Little Women in here. I’ve written a lot of women characters, including Maximum Ride. And part of the reason for that is my background. I grew up in a houseful of women, with my mother, grandmother, three sisters, and two female catsI can still hear their purring and buzzing in my head!

My father was around, but not nearly as much as the females in my life. And also I’d say that the majority of my friends are women. I’m more interested in talking about travel, literature, and food – even knitting – rather than talking about things that men seem to be more interested in, like sports, money, or the best route to take to get places. I find that kind of talk much more monochromatic.

Seventh-grade Jacky’s story is bookended by a prologue and an epilogue narrated by Jacky as an adult and an accomplished comedic actor addressing her two daughters. What inspired you to frame Jacky’s story this way and is this the first time you’ve used this flashback-type narrative?

Yes, this was a first for me in a novel for young readers. I liked the idea of having a little bit of adult perspective in the book, and I like the idea of moms and their kidsespecially daughtershaving a book they can read together. I like to think they’ll say to one another, ‘Remember when we read Jacky Ha-Ha together?’ Parents and kids sharing a reading experience is so very memorablemaybe even beyond going to a concert or a baseball game. And I also like the idea of a mother sharing her past life with her children. Sometimes it can be difficult for kids, on a meaningful level, to understand that their parents were also kids once.

And why is Jacky Ha-Ha a fitting novel to kick off the Jimmy Patterson imprint?

Authors always have favorite books, and this is certainly one of my favorites. The mission with Jimmy Patterson books is that kids will finish the novel and say, ‘Please give me another book,’ and I think Jacky Ha-Ha is true to that mission.

Jacky Ha-Ha by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illus. by Kerascoët. Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson, $13.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-316-26249-1