Creatively Raising Children's Consciousness and Building Character!
I met Kathryn Otoshi over a decade ago. She is an epic conscious media storyteller, creatively using literature and art to lay a solid foundation for young children to build their character and self-esteem on.
Sylvia: What inspired you to write your first children’s book?
Kathryn: I’ve always loved children’s books! My mom often read to me as a child right before bedtime. It was this special time we had together discovering new places and magical lands before I’d close my eyes to dream. In elementary school, it occurred to me that as much as I enjoyed reading other people’s stories, I could create my own! I used to staple pieces of paper together and draw pictures in them. My first published children’s book, What Emily Saw, is about a day of discovery through the eyes of a little girl. This book especially connects meto all those happy memories of being read to, and letting our imaginations roam free without inhibitions.
Sylvia: You travel around the country fostering the development of strong, healthy character traits in your young readers. How do you go about this?
Kathryn: Books are a wonderful way to engage children into having dialogues about subject matters we are sometimes not sure how to broach. How do we talk to our children about courage and kindness? Or discuss feelings of anxiety and insecurities? Picture books can help bridge that gap! We as human beings love stories, and we learn best when our hearts and minds are engaged. Stories help us discover solutions through new perspectives. While some of us learn visually and others learn audibly, children’s picture books immediately do all of these things at once – and more! Whenever I do author visits, I always do my best to encourage teachers and students to do book-related art activities afterwards, so that they are not just emotionally reacting to the messages in my books, but also physically enacting out the message. It’s this combo of engaging hearts along with the physical act of doing these ‘call-to-action’ activities that I think has helped ignite positive character growth in schools and communities.
Sylvia: I love the story behind your collaborative book Beautiful Hands picture book. It moves me to the core because two beautiful things happened, the manifestation of someone’s dream and the writing of such a meaningful and creative book.
Kathryn: Thank you, Sylvia. Beautiful Hands was and still is a very meaningful book for me and for those who contributed their hand prints in the book’s illustrations. A bit of backstory, when my friend, Bret Baumgarten, first told me he was sick, I wanted to do something special for him and his lovely family. But what? Then I remembered Bret telling me he always wanted to do a picture book someday for his kids, Noah and Sofie. When I asked him if he’d like to co-author a book together, Bret enthusiastically agreed! As an idea for our book, he told me every day, he’d hold his children’s hands in his and ask them, “What will your beautiful hands do today?” That question became the key concept in the book. Every question is a word-play, and can be looked at from either a physical POV or a more emotional, higher level perspective. What can you PLANT? (Flowers, trees…or an IDEA?) What can you LIFT? (Your hands…or someone’s SPIRITS?). The rainbow at the end of the book has over 100 people’s hand prints in it, symbolically representing our commitment to the story’s message of doing something kind for somebody else every day.
Sylvia: What is the thought process, and how does someone go about creating such healing material for children while also making it completely entertaining? How can this be applied to creating better films and TV programs for children?
Kathryn: All my books generally represent some issue I am trying to tackle in my own life. I think one thing film and TV programs for children can do besides doing more socio-emotional programming for the general public, is to consider having the main characters be more abstract. Meaning, instead of having the main characters be a boy or girl or something specifically representational to a culture or background – the main characters could be cast as something more abstract, like a triangle, line or a square. That way, the viewers don’t necessarily think “Oh the main character doesn’t look like me. "The viewer instead immediately relates to the situation and story itself. For example, if pointy Triangle comes off too sharp to solid Square, then squiggly Line could come to the rescue by cinching them together!
Sylvia: Do you have any other books in the works our readers might be interested in knowing about?
Kathryn: I have a couple of books that have recently come out that I’m very excited about. One is called Lunch Every Day, published by KO Kids Books (Fall 2021) that was inspired by a friend of mine, Jim Perez – educator extraordinaire. When Jim was growing up, he had a someone do something unexpectedly kind for him. It changed his life’s direction and made him into the amazing educator and person he is today. The other one is a book I illustrated, Calling the Wind”, written by acclaimed author Trudy Ludwig (Invisible Boy, My Secret Bully), published by Alfred A. Knopf. This book deals with loss and how we find hope and healing during challenging times.
Sylvia: I love the conscious guidance these stories provide for children. Especially during these challenging times, laying a solid foundation for who a child will become and teaching them problem-solving and coping skills is a great gift. Thank you, Kathryn.
Kathryn Otoshi is an award-winning author/illustrator. She is recognized for her books for children that help build character through the abstract use of numbers and colors She makes appearances nationally inspiring children with these examples of strong character traits and encourages the use of literature and creativity to get the message across.