2018 NAPIBOWRIWEE DAY 5 – Meet Guest Author Kerri Kokias!
WELCOME TO DAY FIVE OF THE 2018 NATIONAL PICTURE BOOK WRITING WEEK EVENT!
Hi my fellow #NAPIBOWRIWEE participants! Congratulations! You are now in the home stretch of our annual writing extravaganza! Best of all… it’s the WEEKEND! So for those of you who were not able to write 4 picture books in 4 days, you have the weekend to play catchup! 🙂
As you know, I am very honest with my progress in this event every year. Because I’m also busy with other book deadlines, TV work deadlines, and running this event LOL, it’s hard for me to find time to write MY 7 picture books in 7 days. I managed to write two very rough full drafts for Days 1 and 2 and then wrote what was really an outline for Day 3, so I do not count that book for this. I was hoping to work on it today and also finish Book 4, but I realized Book 3 will require way more research. And I honestly love my idea for Book 3 (a picture book biography about a female composer), so although I could not complete it, at least I have a rough outline to work on later this year.
So for Day 4, I was like… “What do I write for today?”
And then my poor Oreo wheezed. Again.
For those of you new to this event, I own three cats – Oreo, Beethoven and Charlotte. Oreo has his own Twitter page – @oreothecatyoo
And poor Oreo has feline asthma! So as he wheezed, I had to use his inhaler…
So I wrote a very cute poem about Oreo trying not to sneeze. LOL! 🙂 And I wrote a very short Author’s Note about feline asthma awareness.
Book 4? DONE. 🙂 The tally so far… 3 completed first drafts (VERY ROUGH!!!!) and 1 rough outline.
In the meantime, I received yet another surprise package in the mail from my publisher LEE & LOW BOOKS. It was the galley and the official hardcover copy of my seventh and latest book, THE PERFECT GIFT (illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez, Lee & Low Books 2018).
My latest book received a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus: “A perfect package of early-reader accessibility, culturally-conscious story, and inclusivity.”
Speaking of diversity, here’s inspiration from HANNAH EHRLICH of Lee & Low Books in a Greatest Hits Flashback post from our 2014 NAPIBOWRIWEE as we celebrate TEN YEARS of my annual NATIONAL PICTURE BOOK WRITING WEEK!
NAPIBOWRIWEE FLASHBACK POST FROM MAY 2, 2014:
LEE & LOW BOOKS is an award-winning independent multicultural children’s book publishing company. They’ve recently gone viral this past year with their intensive research into statistics about diversity in children’s books as well as in larger media arenas, including Hollywood. Their meticulous charts and statistics on diversity have been published in hundreds of news outlets including The New York Times and spurred a national debate on the importance of diversity and multiculturalism in the arts.
We spoke with Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing & Publicity at LEE & LOW about the far-reaching effects of Lee & Low’s diversity research. Here’s what she had to say…
QUESTION: Was Lee & Low surprised by the startling statistics revealing how things have not improved that much for diversity in either the children’s book world or Hollywood? Are there any theories or answers behind these dismal numbers? What can we do to improve it?
For years we were perplexed by why it was so difficult for the overall number of diverse books to increase from year to year. So we became curious, and began measuring diversity levels in other media outside of publishing. We weren’t that surprised to see that television, theater, and film all suffer from the same lack of diversity we face. But the actual level of underrepresentation was pretty shocking.
Underrepresentation in any particular industry is a symptom of larger inequalities: in the way we perceive people who are different from us, and whose stories matter. We are definitely not in a post racial society yet. Stereotypes and racism persist, and there’s entrenched institutional racism in a lot of places so that leaving things as they are or just going along with the status quo naturally results in the exclusion of many people.
Luckily there are some small, concrete things that anyone can do to help change the situation. The biggest one is to vote with your wallet. It’s often said that “buying books is a political act,” and this is true for all forms of media. If you want more books or movies about people of color, support the ones that come out to prove there’s a market. Aside from that, continuing to talk about the issues and think critically about what is and isn’t being made – and to challenge companies that are not inclusive – is important.
QUESTION: Why is multicultural children’s literature vital and important to our society? Is it for everyone? How can we inform our readers that multicultural literature is universal and appealing to people of all backgrounds? (Some readers worry that it’s divisive or fear they can’t relate to a diverse child character – why is that not true?)
Diverse children’s literature is vital because we live in a diverse society: even from a black-and-white economic standpoint, if you want to raise young people to compete in a global society you have to make sure they grow up learning and being comfortable with other cultures. For young readers of color, it’s also important that they have access to books in which they can see themselves so they don’t grow up feeling erased or invisible.
But ultimately it’s all about a good story, and a good story has nothing to do with the race of the main character. For many years, people of color have read and loved stories about white characters because that’s what was primarily available, so it is definitely possible to identify with a character who doesn’t look like you. Why can’t white readers do the same with books about characters of color? And, as people who love books, don’t we want access to stories that truly reflect the wide range of human experience?
Thanks Hannah for our Flashback Greatest Hits post! For more information on Lee & Low Books, go here: https://www.leeandlow.com
And now back to 2018 with today’s Guest Author for Day 5 – children’s book author KERRI KOKIAS!
DAY 5 – GUEST AUTHOR Q&A WITH KERRI KOKIAS
BIO: Kerri Kokias credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. SNOW SISTERS! (Knopf, 2018) is her first picture book. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her family. You can learn more about Kerri on her website www.kerrikokias.com or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @kerrikokias.
PUBLICATION INFO: SNOW SISTERS! (Illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf, 2018) is the story of two sisters’ different experiences during a snow day. It is told in the structure of a reverso poem, which means that mirrored language is used. In this case, the text builds up to the middle of the book and then repeats itself backwards for the second half, and the two sisters’ stories are also told in reverse of each other. A lot of the plot and character development in this story take place in the illustrations done by Teagan White.
Q&A INTERVIEW WITH KERRI KOKIAS
— What inspired you to write picture books?
I started writing picture books when I left my social science research job to be a stay-at-home mom. At first, it gave me something fun to focus on while using the same energy I drew from to parent. Before long I knew writing children’s books is what I wanted to do as a career. I’m always at my happiest when I’m creating, and kids are my favorite kind of people, so writing children’s books is a good fit for me. But that doesn’t mean it came easy. I had a lot to learn!
— Do you write in any other genres?
I’ve been focusing exclusively on writing picture books, but I do have ideas for a middle grade novel and an adult novel that I’d like to write. Novels scare me. There are so many words involved, I get panicky just thinking about it! I’m general a pretty quiet person so it’s natural for me to distill what I’m trying to say to as few of words as possible. I think this is one of the reasons picture books are a good fit for me.
— What is the most challenging part about writing/illustrating picture books?
For me it’s probably writing first drafts. I’m good at coming up with ideas and researching/brainstorming directions a story could go but I stall on turning my disarray of notes into a cohesive piece.
— Tell us about your first published book– what inspired the idea for the book?
SNOW SISTERS! is my debut picture book. It’s inspiration was the convergence of three separate ideas. I had been thinking about writing a story in mirrored language for quite some time. One day, I saw a tweet where an editor questioned why there weren’t any books about characters who hated the snow. I thought that the mirrored language structure could work with that concept. After playing around with it for quite a while, I realized I wanted two characters and remembered another long ago story idea I had with two sisters who were opposites. Through the process of writing and revising, the story didn’t end up implementing the ideas in the way I first thought. The sisters aren’t really opposites, they just have their own distinct personalities, which gives them room to connect in unexpected ways. And neither hate the snow, they just interact with it differently. And that specific editor didn’t connect with the story…but someone else did!
— How long did it take to write?
It took about a year and a half from when I started writing SNOW SISTERS! till it sold, and another two and a half years until it was published.
— Do you have a favorite picture book or a picture book that most inspires you with its writing and/or art? If so, which one is it and why?
I think my all-time favorite picture book might be, THE SEVEN SILLY EATERS, written by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee (HMH Books for Young Readers, 1997.) It is such a perfect pairing of words and illustrations, it has humor, heart, distinctive characters, a satisfying surprise ending, and perfect rhyme.
— Where is the best place for you to write your books?
My focused work time is generally at my kitchen table, but I also write from wherever I am throughout my day. I’ve even written at the swimming pool while swimming laps. There was one particular manuscript I was working on that I kept getting ideas for while I was swimming. So I kept a waterproof notebook at the end of the pool and would jot down notes between laps. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that I often come up with my best ideas when I’m driving or falling asleep. So a surprising amount of my writing originates as notes taken on my phone or whatever scrap of paper happens to be nearby. I have learned the hard way that these pieces of inspiration are lost if I don’t record them immediately, so I know to pull the car over when I need to jot something down and that it’s worth it to turn on that bedside lamp at record my idea even if it’s tempting to just roll over and fall asleep.
— If you weren’t a writer/artist, what would you be?
Most likely something else working with children. I think I would enjoy working at an adoption agency or being a speech therapist or reading specialist.
— If you could give one piece of writing advice for our NaPiBoWriWee participants, what would it be?
As you’re moving through your writing journey pay continuous attention to what is in your control and what is outside of it and focus your energy on the areas you can control.
I would also like to express my respect and admiration for all of you. Seven picture books in seven days is no easy feat. Good luck! In my book you’re successful if you have any words on paper that weren’t there at the beginning of the week. I’m looking forward to hearing your success stories!
Thanks so much Kerri for your kind words of advice and writing wisdom! For more info on Kerri and her books, please visit her website here: https://www.kerrikokias.com
Please post a comment in today’s blog and Kerri will be replying back when she has time! Remember, I will be collecting everyone’s names in the comments section for our contest where winners will receive autographed copies of our guest authors’ books, including Kerri’s and mine, plus souvenirs from our store!
Hang in there and I hope the weekend respite will provide some of you with extra time to make sure you can get your 5 picture books done in 5 days. And then we just have TWO MORE DAYS! KEEP THE FAITH! KEEP WRITING!
And as always, remember… HAPPY WRITING! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂