I created the Pismawallops PTA mysteries in part because I wanted a heroine who was kind of the opposite of what we usually chose for heroines. Someone more like me, not a babe in her 20s or even 30s (ahem). I wanted her to be a mom, middle-aged (sort of, anyway. Forty-something is still young, right?), and part of her community. Because at the time I started the series I was deeply involved in the PTA at my sons’ school, I chose a school/PTA setting, which also immediately gave me a community to surround JJ MacGregor, my sometimes brash and snide heroine.
So is the Pismawallops PTA really anything like a real PTA? And are JJ and her friend Kitty Padgett anything like real PTA moms? The answer to both is yes, sort of? The Pismawallops High PTA does follow the main rules of the National Parent Teacher Association, with officers, elections, and proper accounts. According to the national rules, JJ and Kitty shouldn’t be holding their offices for more than two years, but, just as with many of the PTAs I’ve known and been involved with, they fudge that one because people aren’t exactly lining up to volunteer. Most importantly, their goal is that of every PTA: to do whatever they can to improve the schools and their kids’ learning experiences.
Much like every volunteer organization I’ve known, a big part of what JJ and Kitty do is hunt down people and twist their arms a bit to get them to help out. It’s a shame it’s so hard to convince people to volunteer with the PTA, because despite the distressing events our JJ keeps stumbling into, being a part of the PTA is as rewarding as it is important for the school. For JJ, those rewards started when she first moved to the island, knowing no one there. Her willingness to help out-earned her some friends, most especially Kitty, who is as good a friend as anyone could want. I, too, made friends in the PTA years who have stood by me through thick and thin.
In Pismawallops’ tiny schools, there are never enough staff people to do everything that needs doing, so the parents end up filling some very big gaps, to the benefit of the children. It doesn’t happen everywhere (city schools especially get much more concerned about keeping the lines clear between staff and volunteers), but this isn’t wholly fiction. Under-funded schools mean some things just won’t happen if volunteers don’t make them happen. In Death By Ice Cream, the PTA is responsible for the yearbook, working with students during and after school, nominally under the supervision of a teacher. They also make sure dances happen, students get home safely after an earthquake, and more.
In Death By Donut, JJ and Kitty take on the campaign for a construction bond to build a pool. That’s something that can only be done by volunteers—the schools themselves cannot run a campaign. So the contribution of the parents is essential. It’s not easy, and not always fun (been there, done that) but the rewards are obvious.
Aside from all the ways that parents help the schools and all the students by volunteering, I want to point out a personal benefit of being an active school volunteer: if you are known to the school staff and teachers, you can count on it that if there is an issue with your student, you’ll be heard and your kid will be helped. That alone should make it worth your while to offer whatever help you can.
For the record, however, in 14 years of PTA service, I never once found a dead body. That part I totally made up.
A Pismawallops PTA Mystery: Book 5
Publication Date: May 16, 2021
Election day’s almost here, and the island’s new pool is on the line. JJ should be all in with the campaign, but when a prominent Island businessman drops dead at her feet in the Have-A-Bite Bakery, someone has a mystery to solve. JJ’s fiancé—police chief Ron Karlson—is out of town. Who else is there?
JJ is missing her sweetheart, tired of the winter rains, and distracted by everybody’s questions about when the wedding’s happening. Even more worrying, her foster-daughter’s father has failed to show up on schedule. No wonder JJ’s struggling to wrap this one up before someone else bites into the wrong donut. There’s no time to lose, because something truly essential is on the line: saving the bakery—and JJ’s favorite espresso brownies!
Rebecca M. Douglass was raised in Washington State on an island only a little bigger than Pismawallops. Though she has lived most of her adult life in California, the salt waters of Puget Sound continue to call to her and she enjoys owning an island in the Salish Sea, even if she had to invent one to do so! Rebecca has written a number of children’s books as well as her Pismawallops PTA mysteries and has had short stories published in several anthologies. When she isn’t writing, she likes to spend her free time hiking and biking, and her vacations exploring the outdoor world by camping, hiking, and backpacking.
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