My guest this week is Kate Woodard, a children’s-book author who did not let a language barrier stand in the way of connecting and communicating with young people. When Kate moved to Brazil, she spoke not a word of Portuguese. But through making local connections with schools and bookstores, her readers were able to find her and the language barriers were broken down.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A couple of highlights from our interview:
On writing children’s stories
I feel like a lot of times, we forget that children have, within them, all the things they need to figure out problems, they have their own capacities and strengths to rely on. And so, I kind of wrote the stories with that in mind.
On starting locally
I looked at every market or book fair, coffee shops, little stores. I had my launch in this little store that was opening as well. So, we kind of supported each other, in terms of them having an event and me being able to launch my book. Starting locally really made a huge difference, especially being in a different country.
Listen to my interview with Kate Woodard
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the transcript of my interview with Kate Woodard
Howard Lovy: My guest this week is Kate Woodard, a children’s book author who did not let a language barrier stand in the way of connecting and communicating with young people.
When Kate moved to Brazil, she spoke not a word of Portuguese, but through making local connections with schools and bookstores, her readers were able to find her and the language barriers were broken down.
Kate Woodard: Hi, I’m Kate Woodard and I’m a children’s book author. I’m self-published. I self-published in a foreign country. So, it was quite an experience for me, on top of the fact that, when you are learning how to self-publish, that in itself is a journey. But when you are self-publishing in a country that you enter without speaking the language at all, it’s another challenge in itself.
But once I got going and figured out my way, it’s been a very rewarding experience to engage with children in another country.
Howard Lovy: Kate’s early life involved both writing and performing. Later, it was through writing children’s books that she found she was able to combine the two skills.
Kate Woodard: So, I grew up in the US. I was always writing, since I was a child, or doing something in the performing field.
I actually came across, when I was helping my mom clear out her house because she was moving, some old files that had all these stories that I had written when I was probably seven or eight. So, I’ve always been writing, all the way up until I decided to go to school for theater. Because I’m also really visual.
So, it worked out to be doing something performance oriented, and it was only until after doing theater, that I started to come back to writing, and I felt like children’s books bridge the gap between the visual aspect that I loved about the creative arts and writing.
Howard Lovy: Kate grew up in what she calls a big drafty house in the Catskill Mountains where there wasn’t a lot to do.
That allowed her to develop her creative side.
Kate Woodard: Yeah, I mean, the house we grew up in, because it was huge and there was a lot of us, a lot of mouths to feed, my parents would keep the heat really low because otherwise the price would be exorbitant to heat. So, we would sit around kerosene heaters and I would do my homework and read around a kerosene heater with like the little half gloves for my fingers.
And the area I grew up in, now it’s kind of starting to boom, but the Catskill mountains there wasn’t a lot to do during that time. So, you either became a druggie or you got creative. And so, we got creative. We loved old films and musicals, and we loved putting together old films and musicals.
So, I would do that and then read all the time and so, it was great. It helped focus our creative energy to not have a ton to do, or a lot of cultural things to do.
Howard Lovy: Kate majored in theater at Bard College in New York, specializing in playwriting. Then, she decided she needed more adventure in her life.
So, she packed up and moved to England where she began her career as a playwright.
Kate Woodard: I was part of a little theater company. We did some festivals and I actually acted in a few plays, and I had a play that was staged, it’s kind of a mystery until the end, it was fun. It was a little short piece that was really fun to stage.
Howard Lovy: Also, while in London, Kate discovered that writing children’s stories was a good way to process some of the things that were happening to her.
Kate Woodard: They, kind of, are based on some of the stuff that I was going through, and I felt like in some ways it was a way of processing the different things I went through, like timeless experiences that humans have, and I felt like it could make a nice story.
Because my children’s books are, kind of, humorous and I always feel like I want to entertain and inspire when I write my children’s books. And also to empower, because I feel like a lot of times, we forget that children have, within them, all the things they need to figure out problems, they have their own capacities and strengths to rely on. And so, I kind of wrote the stories with that in mind.
I love children’s literature. I mean, I can sit in a bookstore or library and read children’s books just for the heck of it, because I think they’re so beautiful in the sense that they’re very short but they can be very meaningful stories. And I love the visual aspect of them too.
And I feel like, with my sense of humor, which is kind of quirky, I feel like it, kind of, lends itself well to writing children’s stories. And once I actually did, and I was engaging with children, it was also such an amazing experience.
I don’t really write particular themes. It’s, kind of, what comes up for me, and what story just comes out. Sometimes, it has to do with an experience that I’ve had. Like, I wrote a story about a child who’s afraid of everything and I mean, they’re universal kind of timeless storylines, but told with humor or with a little twist at the end.
So, that’s one is a story about fear and, maybe not overcoming it, because everyone, you know, fear comes up, it’s a natural thing that happens in life, but it’s how we confront it and deal with it in ourselves. Another one about self-worth but told humorously through a perspective of a little girl.
And then I have a little mystery story that’s kind of about being yourself and whatever that means, all your warts and all. So, they’re just all different kinds of themes, whatever comes out, and I feel they’re timeless stories in the sense that they’re very human experiences that everyone has.
Howard Lovy: Then, Kate’s life changed drastically when she married a man from Brazil and moved to a new country where she did not speak the language.
Kate Woodard: When I first moved here, I did not know a word of Portuguese. And I was at the phase of my self-publishing where my books were starting to be finished, and it was the next step of, how do I share these books with children?
And I was in a world where I didn’t speak the language, and it’s hard enough when you’re self-publishing to learn the process and you know, the marketing and how you get out there, but to also have the language barrier was an added challenge, and it made me feel isolated also, just because I was here in overwhelmed by the challenge.
But at the same time, I started to research and listen to podcasts, and I started to feel like I had a, kind of, virtual community through doing that. And one thing that I’ve listened to where someone had suggested starting locally, and I thought, Oh my God, that is what I really need to do, is to start locally in my community.
And so, what’s my niche in my community? Well, I speak English, there are English schools here, why don’t I start there? That turned out to be a very, very good idea. And I started to go to different schools around the country and also in my town. I started to learn Portuguese. So, it was really nice, and I could actually interact with the children a little bit that couldn’t speak English so well, after a time.
So, starting locally, it was a major thing for me, and not just even in schools, I looked at every market or book fair, coffee shops, little stores. I had my launch in this little store that was opening as well. So, we kind of supported each other, in terms of them having an event and me being able to launch my book. Starting locally really made a huge difference, especially being in a different country. Because I started writing when I was so young, and I remember some of those teachers that would encourage me to write. I just love supporting children who want to write. So, when I go, I don’t just go and read my stories at schools, I go and I do a little workshop on writing, so that we all write a little book together. It’s really amazing to see children start to get creative and feel that they could also create a story themselves. I think it’s the best part, interacting with children.
Howard Lovy: Unfortunately, physical interaction with children became a problem when COVID-19 hit, but like many authors, Kate was quick to adapt to the new reality.
Kate Woodard: Well, when it hit, it was kind of in the middle of all of my plans to go to these other schools and it changed everything, but it also made me think, you know, I do need to be creative. So, how can I be creative and maybe more online, or diversify a little bit?
So, I did do some interaction with schools virtually. I read one of my stories to a school. They did a celebration of reading week at one of the schools, and I participated in that too, virtually. So, then I started thinking about, you know, all those skills that you feel that you need to gain and you don’t have the opportunity, like learning technical stuff online for layout, like in design. I did a course in copy-editing.
I’m just using this time to kind of fortify my skills as an author, as well, because I think the written word is super important for children to be able to read something that has good writing, as well as just a good story, but good writing. So, I felt like it was a good time to do those kinds of things.
And I started another project as well. I actually am underway with another book, so it was a good time to kind of storyboard and bring out something else.
Howard Lovy: And that’s what Kate advises for other authors in these times, use this time to think about how you can make new connections.
Kate Woodard: I mean, I went through two months of not being able to write and I was giving myself a hard time. And then I realized, that’s just what is going on right now. Some people are struggling and it’s how it is, and I’ll get back to it. And sure enough, I got back into writing. So, if you’re having ups and downs, it’s, kind of, the natural flow of things right now, but also thinking outside the box and how you can get your stories out there.
Maybe you do something virtual or approach a school virtually and offer to do a reading of one of your books or be participating in some event that you’re doing. And also, just connecting with anyone that you know, that’s local. I always feel like approaching people locally is really helpful because they become your support network too.
I mean, that helped, having known some teachers and professors before the lockdown, it helped when the lockdown happened, to kind of reach out to them when they were having events. And then also to just gain other skills, I think, and use the opportunity to research and test things out online.
I think it’s a good time to do that.