Agent Name: J9
Real Name: Janine Fierberg
Congratulations, Spy! How does it feel?
Being in the upper echelons of spydom is a dream come true. Master of Disguise is pretty much my favorite film, and Pistachio is probably my biggest hero.
How did you first get involved at 826CHI?
I heard about 826CHI through a web search of volunteer opportunities in Chicago involving kids and academics. When I read that it was created and supported by some authors whose works I really admire, I was intrigued to find out more.
What has been your favorite 826 experience so far?
I absolutely love being the storyteller for the younger elementary kids. Their imaginations are delightful and inspire me to use my imagination and secret agent skills to convince them that my job and my ability to support my small dog depends on their willingness to create their own endings to our story and please Admiral Moody.
What do you do when you aren’t working undercover?
When not undercover, I spend my time teaching my small dog, Gogo, to use playground equipment and develop her parkour skills on walls and benches that we encounter while exploring Bucktown.
Do you ever wonder whether Gogo has a secret identity? It sounds like her parkour skills could help her as an agent.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Gogo has a secret identity. When I call her name, she usually looks at me like I'm talking gibberish and sometimes even runs the other way, so clearly she is humoring me by disguising herself as a small dog. Based on her parkour skills, I have a hunch that she may be the reincarnation of Bruce Lee. Also, there are the mysterious Cantonese texts that tend to appear on my phone when I leave it unattended…
Tell us about the last book you read and loved.
It will sound like I am kissing up to the boss but, in light of my involvement with 826CHI, I have been discovering Dave Egger's books these last few months. I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius years ago, and it is still one of my favorite memoirs. I recently finished Zeitoun and What is the What, which are particularly timely given the recent demonization of refugees and immigrants by our new administration. Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is both moving in its exploration of alienation in the digital age and hysterical in its absurdist plot. It is a quick and quirky read. I finished it in a day—just couldn't put it down.
Our most upper-echelon spies always have the best codenames -- what's yours?
My code name is J9. It's a play on the spelling of my first name. J9 with her K9; that's me.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring spies of the month?
I struggle with social anxiety in the company of adults, but with young people I feel quite comfortable and relaxed. To other aspiring spies of the month, I suggest simply showing up, being present, and appreciating the exquisite opportunity to connect with fresh minds. Youth is contagious.