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The Story Behind the Story of The Memory Jar

Written by Debra Daugherty

Illustrated by Victoria Marble

Roan & Weatherford/Young Dragons, April 2023

Thank you, Lynne Marie, for the opportunity to write about my latest picture book for your blog.

Before I delve into the story, I need to provide some background.

In 2006, my Aunt Luella had a stroke. She recovered, but it was during her time at the hospital that her forgetfulness escalated. For the last few years, family members were aware of her memory lapses. She’d mix up names, couldn’t remember events that just happened, and repeated her stories over and over.

We learned she had Alzheimer’s.

She could no longer live alone. I brought her home to live with me. It was heartbreaking to watch as this brilliant lady’s memories faded.

For a while, she kept looking for her husband Elmer, who had passed away six years earlier. Later, she regressed to her childhood, and talked about a pet cat, and that she needed to go home to her mom and dad’s. She no longer knew who I was, or any of her family. When her brother visited, he was just a nice man who came to talk with her. I loved and cared for my aunt until she passed away in 2009. She was four months shy of her ninety-sixth birthday.

Anyone who has ever cared for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s knows what a toll it can take on a person. I felt drained, sad, at a loss and heartbroken. I vowed to remember my aunt as she lived, not as she died.

Time passed. It was August 2018, and my SCBWI-IL writers’ group meeting was coming up. I didn’t have a story to share, so I sat at my computer to write one. Memories of Aunt Luella came to mind. Why not write a story about someone who has memory loss? And I did. The words flowed. In a couple of hours, I had my first draft.

When I shared my manuscript with my writers’ group, I received positive feedback. Most importantly, I found my ending. Having the child write that her grammy remembered her name for her own memory jar seemed like the perfect way to end the story.

I submitted my polished manuscript to several agents and publishers. April 2021, Young Dragons Press offered me a contract. Their illustrator, Victoria Marble, did an amazing job bringing my words to life with her art. I love how she used sepia tones when illustrating Grammy’s memories. She had a difficult job because she needed to show Grammy in different stages of her life, as a child, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. Amelia, the narrator of the story and Grammy’s granddaughter, had her own memories to share, and they are in color. Amelia’s mother is also shown as a child and teen in sepia.

I chose Grammy as the name for the grandmother instead of Grandma or Nana. My niece, Tasha, always called my mom, her grandmother, Grammy. Grammy is a tribute to my own mother. Tasha and her Grammy always bantered back and forth, “I love you.” “I love you more.”

I didn’t even notice until two months after THE MEMORY JAR was published that Victoria Marble wrote the words, “I love you more” on Amelia’s notebook. On the page where Amelia is stuffing her notes into the jar, you’ll see the notebook. You have to turn the page upside down to read the words. Tears welled in my eyes when I discovered this.

I found it interesting that Victoria’s daughter’s name is Emelia. So close to Amelia, the name I chose for the main character.

My aunt was the inspiration for my story and I dedicated my book to her memory. So many people have written to me and posted reviews about how my story has touched their hearts. I believe my aunt would be pleased and happy to know this.

When a child notices memory loss in a loved one, it can be difficult to understand. I hope my story sheds some light on this matter, but also opens up a dialogue between the parent or adult and the child.

The best way to help authors besides buying their books or requesting them at your library, is to post a review. I appreciate all the kind words readers have posted about THE MEMORY JAR.

Thank you, Lynne Marie, for posting my story behind the story on your blog this month as September is Alzheimer’s Awareness month. If anyone needs information about memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s, this website is a great place to start:

BIO for Debra Daugherty: Debra Daugherty lives in central Illinois and is the SCBWI-IL representative for the Springfield area. She began writing stories for her nieces and nephews when they were young. Debra’s publishing credits include Calamity Cat, a picture book, The Dragon’s Ring, a young adult novel, and two short stories for Guardian Angel Kids’ ezine. She has three books under contract with Young Dragons, Grandpa’s Barn, (August 2024), Heart of Stone, (2025), and Grandmother’s Quilt, (2026). Debra is rep’d by Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency. She loves to travel and has kissed the Blarney Stone.

Let’s connect! Here’s my Social Media info:

Twitter - or @dmddeb

THE MEMORY JAR is available on Amazon’s, Barnes & Nobles’ and several Indie Bookstore websites.

Amazon link: The Memory Jar



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