The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kathleen Doherty
Kathleen Doherty enjoys bringing kids and quality literature together.
Kathleen's a Reading Specialist and an Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction. Her love of learning has led her to graduate from four different universities.
Nothing scares her. She has taught elementary school for over 30 years. A student once told her she'd make a great vampire because she's tall and her teeth are sharp!
Her work has appeared in TIME Magazine, The Mailbox, Spider Magazine, Highlights Hello, Highlights High Five, and Highlights for Children. She's won the Highlights Pewter Plate Award, the Highlights Celebrate National Poetry Contest, and a letter of merit from SCBWI's Magazine Merit Competition.
Kathleen’s the author of The Thingity-Jig, illustrated by Kristyna Litten (2021), and Don't Feed the Bear, illustrated by Chip Wass (2018).
Her newest picture book, Twist-A-Roo, releases on November 11th.
Thanks for having me!
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I’m a former classroom teacher and reading specialist. I started writing when my letter to the editor of TIME Magazine got published. I liked seeing myself in print! After cartoonist Charles Schulz died, I wrote to TIME Magazine explaining how I’d teach letter writing to my elementary students. They’d write to Schulz, and he’d answer each and every letter. He did this for 25 years up until his death in 2000.
After I took a few writing courses, I started writing poems and short stories for the three Highlights magazines. I was first published in Highlights High Five in 2009.
I prefer to write picture books and early readers—I love the challenge of tight writing. I use my computer. I have a leather chair with an attached computer tray. I’m most creative first thing in the morning...or last thing at night.
What a great experience for your kids! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
As a kid, I was a voracious reader. I loved the smell of the library, and I still do! Funny thing, I did not like the illustrations in Dr. Seuss books, so I never checked them out. I don’t remember having a favorite book, but I remember reading Nobody Listens to Andrew; Harry, The Dirty Dog; The Poky Little Puppy; and Madeline. And I was fascinated with the illustration of the brother who could swallow the sea in The Five Chinese Brothers.
Some of my favorite authors are: Arnold Lobel, Roald Dahl, Kevin Henkes, and E. B. White.
A few favorite illustrators—not including the two I’ve worked with—are: Leo Lionni, William Steig, and Tomie dePaola.
That's an awesome list of books, authors, and illustrators. What was your inspiration or spark of interest for The Twist-A-Roo?
My editor was interested in a companion book for The Thingity-Jig. He suggested a fable, something STEAM related, and a badger as the main character. I had a rough start and couldn’t get an idea to pop. So I searched Pinterest for STEAM projects. Since I had already used engineering in The Thingity-Jig, I hunted around for art activities. I found directions for making a kaleidoscope. I knew that toy would help make a colorful picture book. So, I bought a kaleidoscope and started playing with words!
That's so cool! How long did it take from the first draft to publication for The Twist-A-Roo? How does this compare to your other two books?
My three books came together each within a few months. It doesn’t always work like that. I have many manuscripts I’ve tried to revise over the years, and I still can’t make them work. I never ever give up, though. I worked on one of my favorite stories in 2017 at the Highlights Foundation Workshop in Chautauqua, and only now is it ready to submit.
Good luck with it! What was the toughest aspect of writing The Twist-A-Roo? And what was the most fun part of writing this book?
It was a challenge describing what Badger saw as she looked through her twist-a-roo. While it’s fun to play with words, it’s hard to make them sing across the page with rhythm and cadence.
I do love the name "twist-a-roo" for a kaleidoscope; it is so fun. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?
In 2015, I attended two relative’s weddings...one in Alaska and the other, in Hawaii. While in Alaska, I got an email from an editor at Sterling who wanted to buy Don't Feed the Bear. I had submitted the manuscript after an SCBWI conference. My agent at the time turned the manuscript down saying it was cute but wouldn’t sell. The book is now in its seventh printing.
I was in Hawaii when I edited The Thingity-Jig at night in my hotel room. I should take a hint and do more traveling!
I was just going to suggest that. Or attend more weddings? Is there anything special you want your readers to know about The Twist-A-Roo?
The story is heartwarming and celebrates the power of community and coming together to share in times of need.
After I received my author copies, I decided to buy a badger puppet to use when I present in schools. But I couldn’t find one ANYWHERE in United States. I searched and searched for days. I finally found the last one on earth at a toy store in Australia and had it sent.
Wow! Good thing we have internet now. When you first saw Kristyna Litten’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? What was it like working with Kristyna a second time? Which is your favorite spread, or one you really like?
Text © Kathleen Doherty, 2023. Image © Kristyna Litten, 2023.
I love how whimsical Kristyna’s illustrations are in both our books! Her art is so detailed. She magically shows the patterns Badger sees as she’s looking through her twist-a-roo. Kids can pour over each and every illustration. One of my favorite spreads is when Badger opens his door, and he gets a WHOOSH of a surprise!
Kristyna and I don’t communicate at all during the making of our books. Each book is half hers and half mine. We don’t get in each other’s way, even though we follow each other on social media.
That is such a fun illustration. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I like to write humorous stories. I just finished Mosquito School. Here’s the pitch: When it comes to avoiding mosquito traps, Cleo Mosquito knows how to school her students. But Cleo has a blind spot. She thinks kids—like the boy with the stinky feet—aren’t as clever as mosquitoes. Unfortunately for Cleo and her buzzy crew, the boy has endless ideas, including one that will send the mosquitos away for good. With plenty of humor, a sprinkle of rhyme, and a wealth of nature knowledge, this STEM book will attract kids...like kids attract mosquitos!
Ha! Good luck with it. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I haven’t been to California in years, but I’d love to revisit Yellowstone National Park. My three books take place in a forest, but Don't Feed the Bear is loosely based on Yogi Bear and Boo Boo from Yellowstone. Yes, I’m that old. I grew up watching Yogi Bear.
Thank you, Kathleen for sharing about yourself and your new picture book with us.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Twist-A-Roo.
For more information about Kathleen Doherty, or to contact her: