Saturday, December 3, 2016

Interview with Kara Van Kirk Levin

The DMS was lucky enough to interview Kara Van Kirk Levin. Fairday shared her thoughts after reading Soldier with her sister, Margo. It was great to share our thoughts about it and hear yours! We're excited to learn a little more about her story. So, without further ado... take it away, Kara!
What inspired you to write SOLDIER?  

It is hard to say exactly from where the story came but I have a hunch it had something to do with my own experience growing up alongside my beloved cousin, who was born with an intellectual disability.  From that vantage point, I saw how he thrived under the love and care of many creative and supportive others, such as his mother, father, teachers, and his extended family.  I suppose Soldier is an insider’s take on what it’s like to love someone whose differences make life a little bit more challenging. 

How did you come up with your characters, Soldier and the field mouse?

Soldier took shape as the words landed on the page.  It’s funny how this process works, almost a little magical, actually.  I begin with a sentence and let the mood and tone of the words I selected inform me of where to go next.  I began to listen to the character that was taking shape and I allowed what I know about human nature to guide me.  As for mouse, she was a cool character to create.  She represents all the helping people out there in the world, who, for whatever reason, choose to come to someone’s aid.  I specifically chose not to give mouse a name (yet) because the point was that she did not need to be recognized for her kindness, that the act alone told the reader all that they needed to know about her character.  Don’t worry, though, she will definitely get a name in the next book.  For now, with great pride, we have taken to calling her “Helper mouse.”

Soldier plays the flute. Do you play any instruments?

I did play an instrument when I was a child – the violin! I begged my mother to let me play and she did.  But, I was sort of a rambunctious child and I ended up breaking my violin bow three times.  Perhaps the violin was a little too delicate for me.  Later, I joined the choir and that was perfect.  I love to sing and it’s much harder for me to break that instrument!

You worked with two illustrators to create SOLDIER. What was the process like?

I worked with two women from Ukraine, both of whom are incredibly talented artists.  If not for their involvement, there likely would not be a Soldier book today.  Because of their experience illustrating books in Ukraine, we were able to print our book in Kiev and shipped back 1000 copies to the US. It was thrilling! 

What was so great about working directly with my illustrators is that we got to create the work together.  We would sit down a couple of times a month over coffee and brainstorm about how we envisioned the images.  Sometimes I would have an idea and Vlada would say, “YES!” Then she’d go back to her studio and work until it was perfect, often far better than I could have ever imagined.  And sometimes, I’d have an idea and Vlada would say, “Eh.” And I would have to admit it wasn’t a great idea.  And that is what you call collaboration!  It was an exhilarating process. 

What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?

Here are some of my favorites from childhood:

Madeline (Ludwig Bemelman)
Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats)
Where the Wild Things Are, Pierre (Maurice Sendak)
Good Night Moon (Margaret Wise Brown)
A Great Day for Up (Dr. Suess)
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Dr. De Soto (William Steig)
Lyle Crocodile (Bernard Waber)
Corduroy (Don Freeman)

I really like books that read a little like poems, for example stories that have a language and a cadence of their own.  I find these rhythms calming and magical.  I think that stories that fit this description inspired the style I used for Soldier

I also really like books where the illustrations have whimsical details, in which the words and the illustrations merge to take you to another place.  And where something emotional and perhaps a little troubling is happening.  These books invoke a feeling of wonder in me long after I’ve finished them and I can return to that feeling instantly, with only the smallest bit of my memory jogged.  These are the books that truly inspire my writing and creativity. 

If you could live anyplace real or fictional, where would it be? Why?

I used to watch the cartoon Little Bear with my children.  It is set in a gentle idyllic countryside, and the bear family is nestled inside a cozy home with apple pie baking and stories being read by the fire.  Even though my boys were little (probably only 3 years old at the time – they are twins), I used to say to them, “Oooh, how I wish I lived in Little Bear’s world!” That is still true.  I love nothing more than a place that feels cozy, where signs of love and respect for humans and the natural world can be felt at every turn. 

Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music while you are writing?

I do some of my best writing while traveling between places, for example on the airplane or the subway.  There is something about moving from one place to another while being surrounded, usually in close quarters, by handfuls of strangers that stirs my emotions and makes the writing flow from my thoughts to the page.  But mostly I can write anywhere that I have something to write with or on.  And interestingly, I almost always lose track of time when I writing. 

Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

I am currently working on the second Soldier book, in which little Soldier begins to outgrow his sweater and must go out in search of mouse for help.  I hope to be able to release it within the next year.  And I am working on a new title, which I am very excited about called The Pattern Thrower, about a little girl who experiences her emotions through patterns and when she feels something strongly, she throws a gorgeous pattern out onto everything in the vicinity: happy patterns, angry patterns, sad patterns, thoughtful patterns, playful patterns, etc.  There is a special character in the book – I don’t want to say who yet, as I want it to be a surprise – that tells the whole story from a unique point of view.  I hope to have this book written by early next year. 

Where can we buy your books or learn more about them?

If you wish to purchase Soldier or learn more about him and Little Wooden Flute, our publishing company, visit our website.  You can also see lots of fun posts on Facebook and Instagram at #SoldierBook and #littlewoodenflute.  The book is also available for sale on Amazon

Friday, December 2, 2016

Margo's Musings: Soldier

Margo couldn't help but fall in love with the adorable porcupine in her latest favorite story. I know you will feel the same way when you pick up the book and meet the wonderful cast of characters.

Soldier, is a young porcupine whose quills go a different direction. This means no hugs for Soldier, which makes him sad and his family too. When his dad whittles a flute for Soldier, he plays his beautiful, but sad, music each night. A kind field mouse hears the music, sees what is causing the porcupine so much pain, and hatches a plan to help Soldier get the hugs he so desperately needs. Your heart will melt at the end of this sweet story. We are reminded that we're all unique and that acts of kindness make the world a better place.

My favorite part about reading this book with Margo is that she screams out, "I love you, Soldier" when we get to the field mouse's solution. Making the story even more fun is the adorable Soldier stuffed animal that goes with the book. It's handmade and so cut!

I recommend Soldier to anyone who likes to celebrate what makes us each unique and those who understand that creating a better world starts with personal acts of kindness. After reading this book you'll want to hug more often and brighten someone's day. The writing and illustrations fit perfectly, and if you order the book online it comes in a beautiful envelope (ideal for gift giving :).

Stop by Saturday for a special interview with the author, Kara Van Kirk Levin.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Happy 1st book birthday to THE SECRET FILES OF FAIRDAY MORROW! It's been a year since the mystery of the Begonia House was revealed to the world, and now the paperback will be available January 3rd, 2017. The new cover design stays true to Fairday's snazzy style, sprinkling in a few added charms. Can you spot the differences from hardcover? ;)

Here's a bit about the story...
The Begonia House keeps its secrets. Everyone knows that. Everyone, that is, except for clever eleven-year old Fairday Morrow, whose family has just moved in. Being the Senior Investigator in the Detective Mystery Squad, more commonly known as the DMS, she’s ready to uncover the mysteries hidden within the strange manor. As the investigation gears up and the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the three young sleuths enter into a world where anything is possible, and the danger is most definitely real. Can they piece together the puzzle before it's too late? Or will whatever's causing trouble find Fairday and her friends first?

Planning to pick up the paperback? Pre-order a copy and you could win a $50 VISA card to treat yourself after the holidays. Contest is open to all! For more details on how to enter, click here.

For more information about the book, visit the DMS at 

Join in the celebration and visit our friends around the book block to pick up a few clues about the inspiration behind the mystery of the Begonia House and how the authors, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, collaborated on the book as friends.

Here's where you'll find the DMS in December...

Thursday 12/1: Carry Us Off Books
Cover reveal & Story Blurb

Wednesday 12/7: Write Stuff
Writing Advice from Stephanie & Jess

Monday 12/9: The Story of A Writer
The Process of Publishing a Book

Monday 12/12: Mama Diaries
The Process of Publishing a Book 

Thursday 12/15: Sandra's Blog
Writing Advice from Stephanie & Jess

Monday 12/19: Paper Dragons
Co-author Collaboration

Thursday 12/22: Mystery, Magic, and Mayhem
Mystery Post ;)

You can catch the authors, Jess & Stephanie, at the following bookstores to grab a signed hardcover edition. The gift of a good story never stops giving!

Saturday 12/3
Monroe, CT
Book Signing

Thursday 12/15
6:30-7:30PM: Barnes & Noble
Holyoke, MA
Chapter Reading/ Book Signing

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