In honor of the upcoming twentieth anniversary of her son David Saltzman’s award-winning children’s book, The Jester Has Lost His Jingle, we would like to highlight the extraordinary work and dedication of our friend Barbara Saltzman, founder of The Jester & Pharley Phund. Barbara has devoted the last twenty years to giving this book to kids diagnosed with cancer and other serious illnesses. Her mission is both a tribute to David and a saving grace to all the young patients nationwide who need some serious cheering up.
The Jester was David’s senior project at Yale University, a fun and heartwarming story about a medieval jester on a quest with his helpmate Pharley to find the laughter that has gone missing in their kingdom. They ultimately learn that despite all the pain and sadness in the world, one’s laughter is actually found within. It’s a great lesson about resilience and inner strength.
Tragically, David died from Hodgkin’s disease in 1990 at age 22 before the book was published. His family promised to see it published and to share its delightful and empowering message of “finding the laughter within” with children all over the United States coping with cancer. They knew that David wanted these children to be able to find pure, unadulterated joy, through The Jester’s colorful antics, as he did. According to Barbara, The Jester was David’s alter ego.
Barbara, aka, “The Jester’s Mom” is the project’s guiding light. An editor for the Los Angeles Times prior to publishing her son’s book and creating The Jester & Pharley Phund charity, she has worked tirelessly since David’s passing: traveling the country, speaking at schools, hospitals, libraries and bookstores, inspiring hundreds of thousands of children over the past twenty years to find their own strength and smiles, and also to demonstrate that it’s up to individuals like her (and us!) to make a difference in the emotional lives of children facing serious illness.
This deeply caring mom who suffered an unimaginable loss in the death of her son has transformed the lives of children across the country with The Jester Has Lost His Jingle. The Phund raises money for the Smiles For Kids With Cancer project—to bring a copy of David Saltzman’s book and a Jester & Pharley doll to each of the 15,000+ children diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year (over 165,000 books and dolls donated so far). Barbara also began a literacy and outreach program for schools—students at over 180 participating schools have read 40 million pages during Jester Read-A-Thons to raise money and bring The Jester’s joy to thousands of ill children around the country. She also developed Jester & Pharley Smile Carts for hospitals, mobile activity centers that come with media equipment, copies of The Jester Has Lost His Jingle, and Jester & Pharley Dolls and bookmarks for gifting to patients.
In 2012, Barbara spearheaded publication of The Jester & Pharley Phund’s English/Spanish bilingual version of the book (The Jester Has Lost His Jingle/El Bufón ha perdido su gracia). The Phund’s Reading Makes a Difference program gifts 30 copies of the bilingual edition to participating low-income schools for classrooms. Far from slowing down, she is working with supporters on an English/Japanese bilingual version, to be published soon. She continues to organize Phund events such as annual tennis tournaments to raise “phunds” for Jester books and dolls for Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California.
Julia Clark, a pastry chef at the Cake BakeShop of Manhattan Beach, California, had fallen in love with The Jester as a child. Motivated to help the Jester’s goodwill persevere, for the last three years she has donated whimsical, custom-designed Jester cookies, through the Cake BakeShop, for the Phund’s annual doubles tennis tournament. One of Barbara’s greatest joys is seeing a generation of Jester fans all grown up and sharing the book with their own children, students, patients, etc. or giving back to the community because of lessons they learned from The Jester. Barbara says David would be thrilled.
When asked what keeps her working so tirelessly on The Jester project, Barbara claims that “This book has made such a huge difference in turning children’s sadness upside-down, the children who really need it most, and it’s made a great difference in so many adult lives as well—there’s no way I can’t continue to be involved in trying to help people with it! It has expanded way beyond pediatric cancer and helps kids and parents facing any kind of adversity.”
The Jester Has Lost His Jingle has won numerous book awards, but so, too, has Barbara Saltzman for her outstanding service to her community and to children everywhere. Three treasured awards include the Everyday Hero Ribbon of Hope Award from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship in Washington, D.C.; the California State Assembly District 66 Woman of Distinction Award; and Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent’s Distinguished Community Service Award. Clearly, Barbara serves as a role model to us all, and she stays focused and on task because she knows the need for “a little more joy” for kids facing health challenges is so immense.
In recognition of the twentieth anniversary of The Jester Has Lost His Jingle, CBS Sunday Morning interviewed Barbara Saltzman, her husband and son Michael in a wonderful segment about The Jester on its May 10, 2015, Mother’s Day show. Watch that interview here.
We thank Barbara Saltzman for setting a wonderful example for us at Resonance House and Digging Deep and for being a mentor to coauthor Sheri Brisson. Barbara has encouraged us and shown us how much one individual and one beautiful book can impact the lives of thousands of children facing serious illness. She has brought the smiles back to countless children and taught us that we can all find our strength and laughter deep inside ourselves.
For more information about the project, to purchase the book or dolls, or to make a donation to The Jester & Pharley Phund to help provide a book or doll to a child in need, go to http://www.thejester.org/. Barbara herself will sign the book upon request. Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 310-544-4733 or 800-9-JESTER.