Meet the Author:
Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
Meet our April Author of the Month, Katie Cotton. Katie is the author of April Elephant Books pick, Look Up at the Stars. Hear from Katie about the beauty and wonder of life’s simplicities, the journey of parenthood, and the joy of children’s storytelling in the interview.
Look Up at the Stars is a gentle story of a mother and her child on an adventure to find a star. Traversing all different settings on their journey, the pair find that what they’ve been searching for was with them all along. A sweet story of a parent’s love and the beauty of home, this book is sure to make a memorable bedtime read for parents and children alike.
Look Up at the Stars tells a sweet story of a mother bear and her cub who leave their home to catch a bright star. Can you describe your creative process when developing this book?
I still remember when I had the idea for this story. I was on a train and it was daylight but the idea just popped into my head. I grabbed a pen and paper as soon as I could and got the refrain down, then the rest just came.
Full of whimsy and wonder, the book takes readers on an adventure through all different terrain to reach their destination of Mount Digger-Doo. How did you decide which settings to include in this journey?
I’m always inspired by nature and this book was no exception. I wanted to show the mother’s love for her child through the obstacles that she overcomes to get her child what she wants, like the stormy sea and the dark forest. It reflects how real parents go above and beyond for their children – they might not literally travel up a mountain, but having had a baby last year I know there’s a lot of effort involved! Plus, I knew that these settings would be a gift for the illustrator.
We love the cadence of this story, as it echoes the calls and soothing responses of a mother to her child. What inspired you to depict this special bond through narrative?
Thank you! I guess I’m interested in how children ask things of their parents all the time. Sometimes those questions are easy to answer (“Can I have a snack?”) and sometimes, like in this book, the demands are a little more difficult. I was exploring how parents wish to soothe their children and make the world perfect for them, but that sometimes it’s not possible. Mum goes on a journey in this book too, realising that what she is doing – the love she is giving her child – is already enough.
Gentle illustrations of the bears’ cozy home, varying landscapes, and the starry sky above complement the peaceful tone of your writing well. What was it like collaborating with illustrator Miren Asiain Lora on Look Up at the Stars?
I adore Miren’s illustrations and she was a joy to work with. She was pregnant with her daughter at the time and I think you can feel that love in her artwork.
By the end of the story, the mother bear and her child learn an illuminating lesson. What they were searching for was closer than they ever could’ve imagined—it just took seeing things from a different point of view. What prompted you to share this message with young readers and their families?
I really believe that there is beauty and wonder to be found in everyday life. Children know that, as everything is so new and miraculous to them, but as an adult it’s easy to forget. So I wanted to get that message across in a way that was easy to understand, through the visual metaphor of the lights in people’s homes sparkling like stars. When you’re in your home every day you don’t always appreciate it, but I find that if you have time away – through travelling, for example – you realise how beautiful it is.
What is the best thing about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?
I love my job. It’s such an honour and a privilege to tell stories for children and all you can do as an author is hope that your story is enjoyed by even just one child. I loved to read when I was young (I still do). I adored the Winnie the Witch books by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul and The Jolly Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg. The humour was brilliant but there were whole worlds contained in those pages as well.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?
I think parents have been concerned for a while about the impact of new technology on attention spans in particular. It can be challenging for books to compete with other forms of media, whether that’s a TV show, games or an iPad. But that’s why reading as a family when children are very young is so important. And we’re in a golden age of children’s books at the moment, so there really is something for every child out there.
Do you have any projects in the works that we can look forward to reading?
Not right now as I’ve taken some time out to be with my son. I also published my first middle grade novel, The Secret of Splint Hall, last year. But watch this space!
Many thanks to Katie for taking the time to discuss the inspiration for and meaning behind Look Up at the Stars. You can find her book in your April Elephant Books subscription!
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