Monday, April 22, 2019

The Story Behind the Story: BE A MAKER by author Katey Howes

Be A Maker
words by Katey Howes
illustrations by Elizabet Vuković

What is the first thing you think about when the alarm goes off in the morning?
What day is it, anyway?
Can I sleep five more minutes?
Do I hear someone in the kitchen pouring rice cereal all over the floor?

Those questions we ask ourselves can set the tone for the entire day. Which is why my newest picture book, Be A Maker (Carolrhoda, March 5, 2019) opens with this recommendation:

“Ask yourself this question in the morning when you wake:
In a world of possibilities, today, what will you make?”

It’s a question I hope every reader will make space for in their wake-up routine. Open eyes. Stretch big. Ask yourself: today, what will I make?

When you start your day thinking of the possibilities it holds for creativity, kindness, innovation, and heck, even a really delicious sandwich - is there any reasonable response other than to leap out of bed with a grin on your face and optimism in your heart?

Be A Maker has become, for me at least, a sort of manifesto. It’s a reminder of all the opportunities that await when we embrace our innate, human desire to put something new out into the world. But it started as nothing more than a scribbled list in a little brown notebook.

I was simply playing with the verb “to make” – thinking of all the vastly differently ways the English language applies that same word, and how very dissimilar they are. Making time, for example, is nothing like making faces. Making cupcakes and making friends require slightly different techniques. So, out of curiosity, I listed all the ways I could think of to use that one little word.

As I did, I started to imagine the list stringing together into a story. (You know writers – we’d find the storyline in a take-out menu if we looked at it long enough.) And of course, because my brain is obstinate, I felt the need to write that story in rhyme. C’mon, how hard could it be? Lots of things rhyme with “make!”

Every outing with my kids became a research trip – what did children like to make? What did they create – and then destroy – without their parents even really noticing?

Every couplet became a challenge. Could I find ways to appeal to all the senses? Could I impart tension and mystery? Hope and pride? Could I find yet another rhyme for “made?” (Raid, blade, Dennis Quaid? Hmm... No. Definitely not.)

A year and a half and over 30 versions later, the text for Be A Maker found its final form, gently shaped (and sometimes not-so-gently ripped asunder and glued back together again) over time by five of my favorite critique partners, the 12x12 picture book community, my agent and 2 different editors at Carolrhoda. (Yeah. All that for 186 words. Whew!) And then it travelled to Rotterdam, where illustrator Elizabet Vuković worked her magic and MADE it so much more than I ever could have dreamed.

Seriously, take a looooong look at the illustrations, where Elizabet has seamlessly introduced dozens of images of or references to strong women, great thinkers, and brilliant artists. Then look again – and find a little spider – a marvelous nature maker who needs no tools but those he was born with – hidden in nearly every spread.  I told you she was magic.

The book follows two children through a day of making – with their hands, their words, their hearts, their imaginations, their choices (plus fruit and cheese! Because all the best days have fruit and cheese in them.)  And it ends with yet another question, another meditation, if you will, that might just make bedtime as meaningful as morning.

“In a day of making choices, are you proud of what you made?”

When I share this book with kids, then ask what they are proud of making, the responses overwhelm me. And I am never more proud of what I’ve made than at that moment.

Katey Howes is thrilled to be making books for children. She also makes bad jokes, great apple crisp, and messy mistakes. Katey lives in Upper Makefield, Pennsylvania (really!) with her husband and three adventurous daughters makers. Katey is the author of picture books Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe and Grandmother Thorn, which was named a 2018 Anna Dewdney Read Together Honor Book.
Connect with Katey at
Twitter @kateywrites
IG @kidlitlove



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