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?
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 worked, almost a little magical, actually. I began with a sentence and let the mood and tone of the words I selected inform me of where to go next. I listened 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:
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 am 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.