Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Donna Barba Higuera, author of "Lupe Wong Won't Dance," "The Last Cuentista" and "El Cucuy Is Scared, Too." (Photo by Joshua Huston)

Q&A: Seattle-area children’s book authors talk about reading, writing and more

Also: How they got started writing, how they inspire kids to read — and more.

Christine Day

I Can Make This Promise

What are your favorite stories to read to children? 

I love sharing board books with my 1-year-old daughter. Lately, our favorite is Little You, written by Richard Van Camp and illustrated by Julie Flett.

What do you read at bedtime now for yourself? 

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of parenting memoirs and books about early childhood development. I really enjoyed There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Åkeson McGurk, and The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davis.

What’s your favorite place to read in Seattle? 

Onboard the Puget Sound ferries.

Did you read a lot as a child? 

Yes! I was an avid reader and a regular patron of the Shoreline and Richmond Beach libraries.

Would the kid version of yourself be surprised that you grew up to be a writer? 

No, because it has always been my dream job, and I’ve always been determined and stubborn enough to make it happen. 

Donna Barba Higuera

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
El Cucuy Is Scared, Too
The Last Cuentista 

What’s the hardest part about writing for children?

I have to remind myself at times that I’m not there to teach a lesson or preach to a child. My job is to tell a story and let the reader determine if they learn something. I have to set my parent voice aside and be a storyteller. If a writer tries to push a message or lesson, a child will sniff it out and won’t enjoy the story. 

Did you read a lot growing up?

Oh, yes! To the point, I was that kid who got in trouble for staying up too late with a flashlight under the covers to read a book.

Would the kid version of yourself be surprised that you grew up to be a writer?

Yes! I wanted to be a writer, but kid Donna didn’t think it was possible. I think this is mainly because no one ever told me I could be a writer. I tell kids at school visits all the time: You don’t have to be known as the kid who is the “writer” or “artist” in your class. You don’t have to be the best. You just have to want to do that thing and keep pursuing it and practicing.

[Edit note: On January 24, 2022, Donna Barba Higuera was awarded the Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature for “The Last Cuentista – her novel for middle-schoolers.]

Amanda Abler

The Spirit of Springer

How do you get ideas for new books? 

I get ideas all the time from articles I see or interesting scientific facts I read. Often, a friend or family member will say, “You should write a book about XYZ …” When I die, there will be a long list of obscure and unfinished book ideas on my phone.

What are your favorite bedtime stories to read to children?

Some of my favorites are The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann

Hoberman and the Bunny Planet books by Rosemary Wells because on a rough day, everyone needs a trip to the Bunny Planet. 

Ben Clanton

The Narwhal and Jelly series

Who is your favorite literary character?

[Bill Peet’s] Droofus the Dragon has been one of my favorites since I was 5 years old. A kind, helpful, fun vegetarian dragon is all the sort of stuff I aspire to.

Favorite place to read in Seattle?

I love to listen to books while walking around Seattle, especially by the water.  

Do you have advice for young writers?

Get to know your characters so well that they become real to you, then they’ll share their stories.

Did you read a lot growing up?

I struggled with learning to read as a kid. Or rather I should say I struggled with reading words. I loved books with lots of pictures and would devour comics.

Tyrah Majors

Grammy and Me

What books do you most remember from childhood?

[Eric Carle’s] Pancakes, Pancakes! was my favorite at the time. Debbie Allen’s Dancing in the Wings was another childhood favorite. It’s the first memory I have of seeing a character in a fiction book who looked like me. It centers the story of a young Black ballerina. 

Do you have tips for young writers?

My advice for any young writer would be to write about what you are passionate about. Everyone has something or someone that is important to them. For me, it was family. 

JD Davis

Rodney Raccoon in Special Delivery

What book made you want to write? 

I don’t recall a specific book that sparked my interest. I do remember getting an assignment from my first-grade teacher to write a story. That story was one of my first introductions into capturing my imagination on paper. I later went on to write songs, scripts and … books.

How do you get ideas for books? 

Ideas are all around. An idea may come when I’m having a conversation with my 9-year-old daughter or driving down the street on any given day. My best ideas come when I can get away from everything and just sit quietly, allowing my thoughts to run free. 

Katherine Pryor

Bea’s Bees

How do you inspire your children to read?

I’ve read aloud to my twins since they were newborns. I remember reading New Yorker articles out loud because it seemed to calm them and I literally had no other time to read. (Bonus: Sometimes we all fell asleep.)

What do you read at bedtime now?

I’ve been parenting 2-, then 3-, now 4-year-old twins through a global pandemic, so I’ve been reading a lot of parenting books to help get us all through a very challenging time. I try to alternate parenting books with page-turning fiction to keep things interesting.

Liz Wong

The Goose Egg

How do you get ideas for new books and new characters?

I usually get new ideas by drawing something. Fellow author/illustrator Elizabeth Rose Stanton calls it “procrasti-doodling.” 

What’s the hardest part about writing for children?

Self-doubt. I ask myself if something is “good” a lot and find myself comparing my work to other people’s work. It’s easy to start thinking that your work isn’t as good as everyone else’s so you shouldn’t even try. You really just need to focus on yourself and what you can control instead of worrying about what other people will like. 

Kazu Kibuishi

The Amulet series

What’s the hardest part about writing for children?

When I started writing, it was difficult to write for children because I was so young, and I was not yet a father or someone who spent much time with kids. Since then, I’ve become a father of two. I’ve encountered many readers, and I’ve learned from other parents, teachers and librarians about what being a children’s book author means to them and the kids. 

What’s on your reading list now?

Recently I’ve been revisiting Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa and The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.

How do you get ideas for new books and/or new characters?

Most of the ideas I’ve been working on are ideas I’ve had since I was a teenager. I hope to eventually get to some of my newer ideas! As far as how they come about, I think they generally start as something small, like a joke, or a random thought. Then they start growing into something bigger, and eventually they just need to get made.

Do you have any tips for young writers?

Live an interesting life and the stories will follow you.

Kerri Kokias

Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse

What book made you want to become a writer?

I don’t think there was a specific book but definitely the experience of reading to my daughter when she was a toddler made me want to write specifically for kids. … I loved that period of time when she was just beginning to talk and I could see her observant little mind putting everything together when we read. 

Who is your favorite literary character?

I’m going to have to say Charlie Brown. Yes, I consider comics literature, and Chuck and I go way back. I’ve always appreciated how philosophical the Peanuts comic strip could be.

Nina Laden

Roberto: The Insect Architect

What book made you want to become a writer?

I started making books before I could write. I used to tell my mother the story and we’d fold paper and she’d write it down so I could illustrate it. There wasn’t one book that did that. It was books in general.

Do you have advice for young writers?

Read, read, read. Read everything. Even the cereal box. And keep a journal. It doesn’t matter what type of journal. I prefer blank sketchbooks so I can write and draw, and paste things in there. And I have only one rule: You can’t tear the pages out. You have to keep everything you’ve done.

Jessixa Bagley

Henry and Bea

Favorite place to read in Seattle?

I don’t leave the house much these days, but I used to love reading on the bus when I commuted to my day job. When else are you in one spot for a specific amount of time twice a day and don’t have to explain your time?

How do you inspire your child to read?

I read to Baxter every night and have ever since he was an infant. I read picture books and chapter books and try to do voices or make the characters expressive so it’s fun for him as a listener. I stop and ask him questions about the story to keep him connected. I love that he can listen, really listen, to what I am reading and think about the story. 

Did you read a lot growing up?

I remember my mom taking me to Powell’s Books in downtown Portland and getting this huge stack of picture books to sit and read in the café while we ate shortbread cookies. We’d be there for hours. It was such a special ritual and really gave me the feeling that books are to be honored, read and devoured.

Joy McCullough

Champ and Major: First Dogs

Who is your favorite literary character?

 I cannot pick one! But [Beverly Cleary’s] Ramona Quimby is way up there. 

How do you inspire your kids to read? 

 One thing I do, which I believe is really important, is give them free rein on what they want to read. Graphic novels are reading. Audiobooks are reading. There is no need to push classics or what might be deemed “high quality” over what kids want to read. The main thing is to encourage a love of reading. Forcing kids to read boring, “important” books is sure to squash that love really quickly!

Asia Citro
The Zoey and Sassafras series

Who is your favorite literary character?

Snake in the Elephant and Piggie book Can I Play Too? He is hilarious and so creative.

Did you read a lot growing up?

Absolutely, yes. I always checked out the maximum number of library books possible and pretty much whenever I was awake I had my nose in a book. My parents joke that they had to pry books out of my hands to get me to do anything else!

How do you inspire your child to read? 

By checking out giant stacks of books from the library as often as possible. 

Published Jan. 1, 2022

For more fun with books, see these questions asked by JiaYing Grygiel in our June 2017 Book Bender issue at seattleschild.com.