2018 NAPIBOWRIWEE DAY 5 – Meet Guest Author Kerri Kokias!

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…

My cat Oreo is the best feline asthma patient!

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).

THE PERFECT GIFT by Paula Yoo & 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:

Diversity Gap in Children's Literature (1994-2012)

Diversity Gap in Children’s Literature (1994-2012)

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?

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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!

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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!

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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! 🙂

56 Comments »

  1. Thanks for the encouragement, Kerri! I found picture books in the same way you did, reconnecting with them as a mom. Thats also about the time I realized how much fun kids are to hang out with!! I’m working on draft 4 and plan to get to number 5 today as well… Happy Saturday everyone!

    Paula, hope Oreo feels better!

    • Thanks Jennifer! Yes Oreo is better today. We have to give him a little pill each day (not steroid thankfully) and two hits of the bronchodilator. He’s a very good little patient. 🙂

  2. Happy Saturday! I am on track with 4 drafts! Hurray! We shall see what today brings. Thank you, Kerri, for your encouragement! I loved hearing about the evolution of SNOW SISTERS. Yes, I too have learned the hard way that if I don’t write down ideas and thoughts right away, they disappear. 🙁

    Paula, I love the fact that you wrote a story with backmatter about kitty asthma. Kids will love it! I hope Oreo has a better day today.

  3. Paula, that is fabulous news! So exciting!

    I’ve asked Hannah a question on the Lee and Low blog before and she is so sweet and patient with everyone there!

    Snow Sisters! is such a super clever book; thanks to Kerri for sharing he process with us! Funny enough, I had also left a social science research position to stay at home with the kids. ?

    And I’m so excited to say that I finished my draft extra early today and it doesn’t stink. LOL!

    • I like that we share that social science connection. We can totally mine it for ideas and details when writing.

      And yay for drafts that don’t stink. (Honestly, yay for drafts that stink as well.)

  4. Kerri, thanks for your post. I was interested in your comment about finding the generation of ideas and the research easier than actually putting it all together in a complete draft. I would be interested to hear about how you move from one to the other. What tips might you have to share about that ‘getting unstuck’ phase as I, too, find that I have lots of ideas but finding a way to connect all the bits and pieces can be a struggle.

    • Hi Jane. Unfortunately, I haven’t discovered a magic formula. I usually just find that after a while the notes get so cumbersome and overwhelming that I want to find some order to them. Oh, I do have one trick! Post-it notes. At this stage I often work in post-it notes on a large tri-fold board so that I can easily pick and choose which pieces to use and move things around. Maybe that will help?

  5. Thank you Kerri for the encouraging post. Snow Sisters sounds like a format I’ve not read before and it intrigues me! Have completed my Day 5 draft. It’s rough, but I feel really positive about it and think it’s one I’ll be revisiting at a later date!
    Paula, hope little Oreo is wheeze free again!

  6. I finished draft #4 at 11:59 pm. LOL. Not the best ending ever, but I have something down to work with now.
    Kerri, I enjoyed SNOW SISTERS! without even realizing it was a reverso poem. Now I’m excited to read it again. It’s such a challenge to write a great story, and you did it in a poetic structure. What a feat!

  7. Cheers Paula for your STARRED REVIEW! Your early-reader series make great mentor texts.
    Hi, Kerri! I really like that SNOW SISTERS is told in the structure of a reverso poem. What a great challenge!
    My 4 day writer’s mind was stuck on the voice of book #3. So I allowed myself to stay in that world. But today I need to catch up and write two new first drafts. Bye!

  8. Kerri, I love the idea of combining different inspirations to create a viable story. I’m going to have to mine my notebook for collaborations 🙂 Day 5- Draft 5 complete!

  9. Paula, I hope Oreo is doing better now!
    Kerry, thanks for this inspired post and for reminding us to focus on the things we can control.
    Day five draft needs a little more work, but it’s almost done.

  10. Kerri, thank you for your encouragement. I’ve lost so many ideas by thinking I would remember them later…. SNOW SISTERS is just lovely and hard to believe it’s your first with such a complicated structure! you must be a quick learner.

  11. A couple of busy days without much writing time, but I now have two rough drafts, one outline, and 4 ideas with lots of notes. So tomorrow (free!) I’m going to try to pound out all seven on m iPad. There will be gaps, but right now it looks to me as if any of the seven could be viable, so that’s very exciting. School visit Monday, but I hope I’ll have some evening time to do some more typing.

  12. Kerri, your path to picture book writing is so relatable, and it’s encouraging to hear your experiences. It’s a reminder that so many of us share similar paths, and with enough dedication and time, we can meet the same successes that you’ve found. Simply by taking the time to share your story with us today, you’re helping us to keep plugging along. Thanks for that!

  13. KERRI: “Snow Sisters!” looks ADORABLE! I CAN’T wait to read it, especially as it is written in such a unique way using mirrored language. I AM FACINATED!!! And THANK YOU for the INSPIRATION to remember to “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.” PRICELESS!!! This is SO KEY to me! THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom! Oh, and the idea to use a waterproof notebook–I’M IN LOVE!!!!

    My Progress: Yesterday was the SECOND day in A ROW that I was able to write outside of my usual comfort-zone time! YIPPPEEEE! I was FINALLY able to push myself to get a story down on paper from an idea I had for StoryStorm way back in Nov 2015! WHAT AN AMAZING FEELING!!! The question is: Can I do it again tonight, with just two hours to midnight? I’M ON IT!!! HAPPY WRITING TO YOU ALL!!!

  14. I am swimmer, too, and often have glimmers of great ideas while swimming laps. Never thought to find waterproof paper. Great idea. Thanks for providing us all with writing encouragement.

  15. PS: I hope Oreo is feeling MUCH BETTER, Paula!!! And CONGRATS on your paperback edition and BRAND NEW book being delivered TWO DAYS IN A ROW! THAT’S GOT TO BE A GREAT FEELING!!! THANK YOU for showing us it can ACTUALLY HAPPEN if we put in the time to ACTUALLY WRITE!

    • Hugs Natalie and thank you for your kind words. Yes it was a surprising week but filled with good news! 🙂 And yes, KEEP WRITING! you can do it! 🙂

  16. Thanks so much for the inspiration, Paula and Kerri! Paula, I love the picture of you and Oreo and the asthma inhaler (this from someone who had to give a cat daily insulin injections!). Kerri, thanks for reminding us to focus on what we can control, not what we can’t. We can control writing something that is good, but we can’t control if it gets published!

    This week is so great. Yesterday, I finished my draft from Day 4, and I took a longer work and pared it down to a draft of a picture book. It probably doesn’t “count,” as it’s more of an outline, but it gives me a nice starting point. Thanks so much for organizing and hosting this, Paula!!

  17. Karri, That is fantastic advise. Focus on what we can control. There are so many distractions in this business, it’s easy to go astray. That’s why I love this challenge. One thing we can control is sitting down and doing the work. Five stories done!

  18. So nice to meet a fellow northwest writer! I’m from the Yakima Valley. I enjoyed reading about your need to write down every idea. I’m the same. If I don’t write it down, it’s gone. I know I’ve lost many great (ok, or mediocre) ideas that way. Congratulations to you! Moving my daughter, so not much writing for the past couple days…

  19. Congratulations on your debut picture book, Kerri. It is exciting that your wonderful idea is now a beautiful picture book.

    Paula – I hope to see a book featuring Oreo someday.

  20. Okay–writing a reverso is impressive enough, and to have one as your debut–Wow! Congratulations, Kerri! I have scraps of ideas everywhere and I’m trying to learn to curate them. But finding them sometimes is like a little gift to myself, lol.

  21. This is great advice Kerri, “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.” Congrats on your debut!

  22. Congrats on your debut, Kerri! I can’t wait to read SNOW SISTERS! And the story of your writing journey resonated with me; I also started writing PBs as a stay-at-home-mom.

  23. Catching up on blog posts a little belatedly… congrats on #7 Paula, and Kerri: you are the best — with the best advice: “focus your energy on the areas you can control.” Right on!

  24. Hi it’s 5/7/18 and it’s Paula just checking in, finally getting a chance to respond to some of your comments. Thanks again everyone for your kind words and for working so hard! I’m proud of you guys! 🙂

  25. Oooh, the reverso poem–I’ve never tried my hand at it, but it seems like such an accomplishment.
    This day, I actually started a story at my local Starbucks. Finally, a small respite and a morsel of writing! It made me giggle while I wrote it, & images came to mind that… shame on me, I didn’t have a notebook on which to record!

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