NaPiBoWriWee Day One: Guest Author Blog – Erin Eitter Kono

Meet 2011 NaPiBoWriWee Guest Author/Artist Erin Eitter Kono

Welcome to ERIN EITTER KONO, our guest author/illustrator for 2011 NaPiBoWriWee Day One!

Erin is an award winning author and illustrator.  She studied Art History at the University of Iowa and the University of Hull in England, and she studied Graphic Design and Writing through UCLA Extension in Westwood, CA. For more info on Erin Eitter Kono, please check out her website here:

Erin graciously agreed to provide an autographed copy of her first written AND illustrated picture book, HULA LULLABY (Little & Brown ’05) for our prize drawing at the end of the event. JULY LULLABY won the Children’s Literature Council’s Excellence in a Picture Book Award and was named “Best Lullaby and Good night Book” by Nick Jr. Magazine. Thank you, Erin, for your generosity!

I highly recommend you check out Erin’s other amazing illustrated books, which include: THE TWELVE DAYS OF WISCONSIN CHRISTMAS (Sterling 2007); STAR BABY  by Margaret O’Hair (Clarion 2005) which was named on the Center for Early Literacy’s “Best Book for Babies” top ten list, and was a top ten pick for ABC’s Best book for Babies and Toddlers; NELLIE AND THE BANDIT by Eileen Ross (FSG 2005); PASSOVER by Roni Schotter (Little, Brown 2006); PUNK WIG by Lori Reis (Boyds Mills 2008), a Bank Street College of Education “Best Book of the Year”; and GRANDMOTHER HAVE THE ANGELS COME? by Denise Vega (Little, Brown 2009) a 2010 Américas Book Award Commended Title, chosen for the Reading Is Fundamental 2009 Multicultural Library Booklist and winner of a MLAG Living In Color Literary Award.

Keep reading for our Q&A with Erin…


— Where is the best place for you to write your books?

I write best at home, usually propped up in bed with my laptop in absolute silence.  I sketch anywhere, but preferably on an airplane.  I paint in my studio.

— If you weren’t a writer/artist, what would you be?

Probably an architect, that was the plan anyway.

— Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.

I’m currently obsessed with quantum physics and the string theory.  Unfortunately I’m an idiot at math.

— What was the most unusual job you ever had?

I’ve worked a lot of weird jobs…  I dealt black jack on a Mississippi river boat to pay for college.  That was pretty fun.  You can learn a lot about a person by how they gamble.

— Tell us about your first published book – what inspired the idea? How long did it take to write (for artists – or illustrate & write)? Any fun details about the road to your first book’s publication?

My first book was HULA LULLABY (Little, Brown 2005)  For years I worked as a flight attendant, mostly overseas, and spent a good part of my time in Hawaii.  One of my best friends is a well known hula dancer and she’d introduced me to her kumu and halau.   Like many people, I fell in love with the Hawaiian culture.  After 9-11 I’d taken a furlough from the airline to pursue illustrating full time.   I was living in Boston, it was winter, and I was seriously homesick for the islands.  I sent out a promo that featured two hula dancers.  It wasn’t a very large mailing and I’d printed it myself on photo paper with an inkjet printer.  The ink ended up running in the mail.  All but about ten of the postcards came back as undeliverable.  But, one managed to land on the desk of Jennifer Hunt.  Jennifer had just moved to Little, Brown and also had just returned from a conference in Maui.   Her assistant called to ask for more samples and asked if I had any stories to go with the image.  We set up a time to talk.   I spent the next week brainstorming ideas.  What I came up with was a poem inspired by the rhythms of the ipu heke, a hula implement that, when played echoes the rhythms of Hawaii; the waves, the wind, the trees, and a mother’s heartbeat.   Every once in a while, (and I’ve come to appreciate how rare it is) things just come together.

— If you could give one piece of writing advice for our NaPiBoWriWee participants, what would it be?

Just keep working.  Here’s a quote from a personal hero:  (I’m guessing Paula, as an accomplished musician, might appreciate this one…)

“Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill.”  –Shinichi Suzuki

— What inspired you to write or illustrate picture books?

I love them.

— Do you have a favorite picture book or a picture book that most inspires you? If so, which one is it and why?

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE   is, of course, perfection.

Other favorites:

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

LITTLE BEAUTY by Anthony Browne

NO DAVID by David Shannon

MAMA DO YOU LOVE ME? by Barbara M. Joosse and Barbara Lavallee

I like books whose illustrations tell more than half the story.

— Given the changing book industry with the advent of e-books and the rollercoaster economy, do you still think picture books have a place for tomorrow’s children? Will people still be reading traditional picture books in the future?

I think so.  For me books serve two main purposes, one is to convey information, the other is as an object.  When I look at kids today the biggest change I see is how they think of information.  Information isn’t something to own.  It’s something to use.  There’s less of a need to own a book, or own a cd or dvd, etc.  You just use it and leave it in the cloud, or on the net, or wherever, until the next time you want access it.  In that respect there will probably be less of a market for printed books.  But books are more than just information, they’re objects.  They’re tactile and beautiful and what you snuggle up to when you want to turn off the world.   I can’t imagine curling up with a screen, even a really fantastic non-glaring one, to read my daughter a bedtime story.  I don’t suppose too many parents do.  Reading a picture book is more like exploring an object than simply gathering info.  The physicality of the book provides timing to the narrative.  The way ones eye scans a page is different than on a screen.  Personally, I think it’s more important than ever when we, as creators, design books to keep that physicality in mind, in that way we’ll insure traditional books will stand apart and remain necessary and treasured objects.

–For the artists: When you write and illustrate your own picture book, do you write the story first or do you come up with a certain image first? I’m curious to hear this process

It’s the image first… but the one in my head, and that’s probably the same as with authors who don’t illustrate.  I imagine a scene or a character and then I put it on paper.  It doesn’t really matter if it’s written or drawn.  Each project is different and determined by the story.  When developing a book I tend to go back and forth between writing and illustrating.  I think of a book as a complete package.  The words provide a sound track, the illustrations tell the narrative, the design/page turns, etc. provides timing.


Many grateful thanks again to Erin for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our Q&As and to donate an autographed copy of her book for our NaPiBoWriWee drawing! We look forward to your comments below.

For more info on Erin Eitter Kono, please check out her website here:

Until the next NaPiBoWriWee blog… Happy Writing! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂


  1. Thanks for a very thoughtful sincere interview. Interesting to read about your process (going back and forth from writing to illos). It’s nice to read how dedicated you are to the picture book form.

  2. Clicking through to Erin’s site and her portfolio, the first image made me think, “What’s the story behind this?” And each piece after that did the same. Not just pretty art…and it is beautiful…but a story in itself…that’s a what a really-truly illustrator does, but doing it so well shows the 10,000 times, I think!

    Erin, thank you for doing this guest spot.I wish they’d make a DIXIT (like Apples to Apples but with pictures) board game with YOUR art. I like the cover of ‘Grandmother, Have the Angels Come?’ I’ll look for the book.

    • That’s a huge compliment for an illustrator- thank you. Because the PB format is so concise it’s important to remember that each element, illustration or word, should move the story forward. If it doesn’t it can be edited out.

  3. Thank you everyone for your kind words, and to Paula for inviting me! Its a pleasure to be a part of the kidlit community. I’m wishing you the best in your efforts this week. Hopefully by Friday you’ll have all kinds of new ideas to develop and stories to flesh out.

  4. Sorry, I’m a day behind! My daughter’s second birthday party was yesterday… ANYWAY! 🙂

    My favorite quote: “I can’t imagine curling up with a screen, even a really fantastic non-glaring one, to read my daughter a bedtime story.”

    I’ve been trying to convey this exact sentiment to my husband. I only have an iPhone kindle but I really have learned that I prefer a book… it won’t ever crash on me, I can open right to the page I want, smell it’s pages, and yes, curl up with it. When I’m on a computer all day and I want to read to relax… I don’t want to do it on another “computer.” So thanks for affirming that I’m not nuts. Or, at least, that I’m not the only one that’s nuts! 🙂 Long live the printed book!

  5. Enjoyed your post. What struck me most was your comment that kids today think of information to use not to own. That struck a chord in me. I wish I could embrace that a little more – my desk would be cleaner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *