Chappaqua-based author Ronni Diamondstein has always had a special place in her heart for former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. As an eight-year-old child, Ronni Diamondstein watched as John F. Kennedy was inaugurated and during his presidency tuned in to many of his press conferences. She vividly remembers the White House restoration special on TV led by Jackie and then marveled at her grace when she led the country in mourning after her husband’s assassination.
Diamondstein’s home includes a vast collection of books on the Kennedys. Diamondstein has nearly 100 and has been reading books about them for decades. Diamondstein, a former school librarian and a past President of the Chappaqua Library Board, always wanted to write a book about Jackie. Initially, she started to write a novel, then a friend suggested a children’s book that ultimately became an engaging new picture book titled Jackie and the Books She Loved which launches in November.
Diamondstein has always been fascinated by Jackie’s lifelong love of books and her eventual role as an editor. “Introducing this inspirational First Lady to young readers is exciting. She did a lot to change the role of the First Lady. She brought in performers and writers to the White House and created the White House guidebook. But she also learned to read and write as a young girl. Reading and writing were common threads throughout her life,” explains Diamondstein.
Diamondstein’s book shows young readers how Jackie was a voracious reader and writer. In fact, she was reading Chekhov at age six. She also wrote many stories and poems for her family as a young child. One of her poems, titled “Sea Joy”, is included in Diamondstein’s book. To gain permission to publish “Sea Joy”, Diamondstein contacted Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and thought the response would take many weeks. Two days later, Diamondstein heard back. “I thought that it must make her happy that her mother’s poem would be introduced to a new generation. I actually teared up when I read that email,” remarks Diamondstein.
The book shows how Jackie continued writing beyond childhood. In college, she won a Vogue magazine writing contest. Upon graduation, she was a Washington Times-Herald reporter where she interviewed her future husband, Senator Kennedy. She encouraged JFK to write Profiles in Courage and wrote a weekly column “Campaign Wife” to help him win the election. Diamondstein notes that some people initially criticized Jackie when she became a book editor in 1978. However, many did not know about her past as a writer and lifelong bibliophile.
Diamondstein did extensive research to ensure all the illustrations were historically accurate. She collaborated with illustrator Bats Langley on many of the details included in the eye-catching illustrations and provided him with direction. For example, the cover picture includes a horse statue and a blue vase with peonies and cornflowers, two of Jackie’s favorite flowers, on it. After Jackie passed, Sotheby’s held an auction of items in her apartment and Diamondstein reviewed catalogue photos.
Fun events are in store to help with the book’s launch! Diamondstein will be showcasing her book at the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival on Saturday, September 30. Diamondstein explained that her connection to children greatly motivated her as well. “I always loved putting beautiful books into the hands of little children,” noted Diamondstein. “I feel like I was meant to write this book.”
She will also participate in an online book launch via Zoom co-sponsored by the Chappaqua Library Children’s Room, Friends of the Miller House and Skyhorse Publishing on Thursday, November 9 at 7 p.m.
A week later, Diamondstein will be featured in a First Ladies Library Legacy Lecture via Zoom on Thursday, November 16 at noon. To her delight, Diamondstein was contacted by the First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio to include a program about Jackie and the Books She Loved that complements an exhibition about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that’s running through next April.
Follow ronnidiamondstein.com to preorder and for more information about other events including a book signing at Susan Lawrence in Chappaqua on Saturday, November 25 from noon to 2 p.m. The book’s dedication page includes the following quote from Jackie – “If you produce one book, you will have done something wonderful in your life.” Luckily for young readers, Diamondstein followed through on her lifelong dream.