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Author Spotlight: Kate Allen Fox



Happy Sunday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!


Fact: space is awesome.


Other fact: you are currently reading this sentence from space. Yes, that's right. We're in space. Everything in the created universe is part of space. You're just sitting there in your adorable chair with your tea or coffee or other beverage if you're reading this at night...you're just sitting there on a rock that's floating in space. As if your anxiety didn't need any help. It's okay. You're not alone. Take a breath...we're space surfing together.


All on-brand-Brian-joking aside, this interview is special. And not just because the eclipse is happening mere hours from now, but because this book is just a feast of awesome. Don't believe me? Read this interview and then just try not buying a copy or snagging one from the library. If you have a human heart, you're gonna want to do just that.


I was moved in many ways initially reading the book but then I got Kate's responses back from my questions...and real tears happened. That's why I love doing these interviews. You think you know the book. The whole story. But there's always so much more.


This interview gets deep and will get you thinking about the things and people who matter...


Buckle up because this one is going to punch you right in your heart's throat.


Right in the heart throat.


Today's Author Spotlight is with Kate Allen Fox. I'm happy to turn the metaphorical celestial spotlight on her and this wonderful book. A Few Beautiful Minutes is illustrated by Khoa Le and published by Little, Brown. As is Kate's style, this book is not your dad's nonfiction text. NOPE! It's so much better. So much more beautiful. If you're not familiar with Kate's work, you need to amend this. Yesterday. Her first book, Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees came out in 2021 and it's truly delightful.



If you've never read Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees, you should! It's about aspen trees and it will BLOW YOUR MIND. Here's my cover reveal post with Kate three years ago almost to the day--how has it been three years!?


Her next book comes out this fall and I have no doubt it will be another force to be reconned with. Mark your calendars for October 15th!



Before we jump in with Kate, I wanted to share a few things.


In case you missed it, I recently participated in Kidlit Haha Week hosted by Brittany Pomales and had an absolute blast. The theme for this event was all about writing humorous picture books. I chose to take a deep dive into the comedy of my second picture book, This is Not a Sleepy Bear Book illustrated by Jenn Harney (Little, Brown 2025). Here's the link to read my post if you're curious!



Lastly, I wanted to share about the current sale happening for my picture book story coaching service. In conjunction with the Kidlit Haha Week post, I'm offering a 25% discount for all critiques from now until May 5th.


If you didn't know, I've critiqued a million picture books. I'll help you see all the places you could insert wolves into your book...wolves. It's a lot of fun and I'd love to collaborate with you. Several of my clients have gone on to find representation, land book deals, and master the art of wolf-themed picture books.


So, let me be part of your story! The promo code KidlitHaha25off will be good until May 5th, 2024 (limit one per person).



Okay...back on track.


Now that you're all up to date on recent happenings and wolf-related sales, it's time for the real show to begin. This is an ancient and awe-inspiring show. A lunar drama of the highest caliber. It's set to begin any moment now.


The moon approacheth. Shhhh...forever in the wings, she steps up to the curtain, eying the sun. The sun has the spotlight and is gabbing on and on in her monologue about whatever the sun gabs on about. But not for long. The moon seizes her moment and makes a break for it! She races downstage center and forces the sun back into the curtain! The sun is upstaged!


THE MOON TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT! At least...


for a few beautiful minutes.


Here's Kate.


 

Spotlight on Craft: I seem to approach each story a little differently. Do you experience this? Talk to us about how this text revealed itself to you and that initial entry point into this book. What role did revision play and how did the finalized text emerge? 


I’m with you there! I love experimenting with different structures and points-of-view. For this particular manuscript, I experimented with so many different entry points, and I went through at least 50 revisions. It was during a late revision (probably a year or more after my first draft) that I hit upon the eclipse being a “show” of sorts that the sun and moon were preparing for us humans, and that really helped pull the manuscript together.

 

Themes, Ideas, and Messages: To begin, this book is so much more than information about a solar eclipse. So much more than poetry. All that information and poetry is great and kids and adults will all learn from you in this book, but there are other, deeper story transactions going on that I noticed as well. You did so much with so little! What’s an important theme or message you hope readers notice or internalize? 


Thanks for asking this! I tried to bake in several layers of meaning and hope that at least one of them speaks to every reader. I used theatre terminology because I have always loved theatre, and an eclipse feels very much like a show to me. I also wanted to convey the sense of community and connection many people felt during the 2017 eclipse—the idea that we were all experiencing the same thing at the same time (a rare thing in our modern era). The layer that is deepest, and most personal to me, is the idea that the eclipse experience is fleeting, but meaningful (like life itself). I deeply believe that ephemeral experiences matter and can change us as people. I think eclipses are a beautiful example of that.

 

The Beauty of Language and National Poetry Month: Every April this high school English teacher finds new ways to nerd out with his students. I LOVE POETRY! There, I said it. And it doesn’t have to rhyme. Can we say that enough? I was actually glad that yours didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE rhyming picture books but I also love when authors don’t overlook all the other tools with language we have—tools you masterfully use. It’s so poetically rich! All the repetition, the use of refrain, alliteration, dramatic effectiveness of the well-placed ellipses...even the emotional impact of the delayed perspective “you.” I could go on and on. But sometimes you hear silly things like lyrical, rhyming, or more poetic picture books should be avoided. To counter this nonsense, why are lyrical books still relevant and vital for young readers and listeners to engage? Why are they evergreen?


Poetry is so magical, and I certainly hope kids are still getting it in their literary diet! A personal story…When I was a kid, my dad read poetry to me all the time—and not kids’ poetry for the most part. He’d call my brothers and me into his office and read from this worn, slender volume of American poetry, particularly the poems of Poe, Frost, and Whitman. This started when I was five or six. Obviously, I didn’t understand everything about it, but I loved how the words sounded. It was beautiful to me, even if the meaning wasn’t always accessible. I expanded my poetry tastes a lot of the years, but my love of writing started there. My dad passed away about nine months ago, and I have that volume of poetry sitting on bedside table. It’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. So does poetry matter to kids? I think it can.

 


Lyrical Nonfiction Genre and Branching Out: I’m really finding more and more that I have a strong personal connection to picture books in the space of lyrical nonfiction. It seems to satisfy our desire for information and beauty in a compelling way. Considering all your publications, your voice and brand really shine in this (from my observation) growing picture book avenue. For our friends who are solidly stuck in fiction land (ME!) or nervous about attempting a more poetic, lyrical style, what encouragement or tips can you offer to inspire us to dip our toes in these waters? 


Jump on in! I think people get caught up in not being an “expert” on their topic. Before I started writing kids’ books, I worked at a scientific agency. I wasn’t a scientist but translated science for lay audiences. Coming out of that experience, I realized that I could learn enough and interview enough experts to tackle most nonfiction projects. Writing nonfiction requires research and talking to experts (who are usually thrilled to talk about their research), but it doesn’t require you to be an expert before you get started.

 

My other piece of advice is: don’t forget about the emotional experience of the reader. For me, every nonfiction topic needs to have layers of meaning and an emotional impact. Otherwise, people can get the information off Google. So make sure you’re creating an experience for your readers, not just reciting the facts.

 

Response to Success: I’ve been cheering you on from the wings and talking this book up a lot lately. And I think we’ve all noticed the impact a single event can have on a book’s performance. It goes without saying but this book is a smash success (even without the approaching eclipse!). But, given the circumstances, what lessons have you learned from all the well-earned buzz you’ll take with you in the future? 


The buzz has been incredible. It’s still a little early to know all the lessons I’ll draw from this book’s recognition, but a few things spring to mind. For me, it can be anxiety-inducing to have that much attention on my work, so I’ve had to do some internal work in order to enjoy the experience. It’s also made me think more about how my future books will be interpreted by readers and make sure that I’m being as intentional as possible with every choice I make.

 

The best part of the whole experience has been having my friends and writing partners cheer the book on and support me in this whole endeavor. Writing can feel very isolated but it really is a team sport, and I am so grateful to everyone who has been on this book’s team.

 


Kate’s Writer Heart: I believe every manuscript and every book we write has a lesson to teach us. How did you grow as a storyteller and a writer as a direct result of working on this book? What did you discover?


Oh, wow, great question. This was the hardest manuscript I’ve ever written, but I love how it turned out. I think it taught me that I can do hard things. And to trust myself. A lot of agents and editors didn’t see an opportunity around an eclipse book, but I truly believed in the vision. And it’s worked out!


Spotlight on Words: Let’s put a spotlight on those wonderful words of yours….what’s your favorite individual line and why and what’s your favorite text or stanza in a whole spread and why?


My favorite line is when the text turns to the reader by saying “In the crowd is one/tiny/precious…/you.” Making the eclipse experience personal was so important to me when I was writing the manuscript. It’s also where the idea that the eclipse is fleeting and precious and that our existence is fleeting and precious meet up.

 

And look at Khoa Le’s art here! It’s so much more powerful than the words. See the eclipse reflected in the child’s eyes?! I mean, amazing!



Spotlight on Art: Now, let’s focus on visual storytelling and Khoa Le’s beautiful illustration, artistry, and design. What’s your favorite artistic element and favorite whole spread and why?


Khoa’s art is so mind-blowing amazing, I don’t know where to begin. The way she paints light captures feelings of awe and wonderment in ways that words cannot. I love how she painted the corona shining around the moon during the totality. The way she painted the nocturnal animals waking up is also just gorgeous.

 



The Final Word: What would you like to leave in our minds to consider or further reflect on today?


This is personal, but also related to the ideas of the book…When my dad went into hospice care last June, I had just received the Kirkus review for this book. I was fortunate enough to spend several days with him before he passed, and he spent some time bragging about the book (he loved bragging about his kids). While we talked, I told him that, to me, the book was about more than just eclipses. That it was about how short experiences were meaningful, and that human lives were like that—fleeting but powerful. He told me that the time we spent together while he was in hospice had been “a few beautiful minutes” for him. I still cry thinking about it.


In the months since he’s passed, so much as happened. So many things I didn’t believe were possible for myself. I didn’t think I’d ever have a book do this well. But life is short, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to follow my dreams and see some of them come true. So, if there’s one thought I’d leave with you, it’s to do all things you’ve been scared to try—or think you can’t do. You can.


Thank you so much, Kate. Wiping tears from my face AGAIN, so thanks for speaking to our hearts and inspiring us today. Bah. Squeeze your loved ones today. If they're still around, call your Mom and Dad. Life is fleeting and beautiful and it's our togetherness that makes it matter most. So connect. Be together. Experience the beauty all around us.


As a thank you for sharing a few beautiful moments with us, Kate has generously offered to donate a picture book manuscript critique to one lucky winner. Dust off those manuscripts and see details below on how to enter.





TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:



Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight

AND

✅ Share this post on social media using the hashtag: #PBSpotlight 


Accepted platforms: Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook


Follows and tags are appreciated so I don't miss your sharing!


***The deadline for this contest is Sunday, April 14th at 9 AM CST


Winner will be contacted on Sunday, April 14th & announced on Brian's social media channels***


About Kate Allen Fox


Kate Allen Fox is an award-winning children’s author from southern California. After working in public health, she combined her passions for science and the written word and began writing picture books that inspire wonder and curiosity about the natural world. Her debut picture book, Pando, A Living Wonder of Trees, was published by Capstone in 2021 and named one of the best books of the year by School Library Journal and Chicago Public Library and a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. Little, Brown published her second picture book, A Few Beautiful Minutes, in 2023 to critical acclaim, and Beaming Books will publish Winter Solstice Wish in 2024. Her essays have appeared in several publications, including The New York Times and McSweeney’s. In addition to being a writer, Kate is a speaker, arts educator, and homeschooler.  Find her online at kateallenfox.com or on Twitter and Instagram  @kateallenfox





 

Speaking of eclipses...it appears Brian has been eclipsed. By Dennis. Fully upstaged. Usurped. These things are bound to happen every now and again. Since Dennis has grabbed the spotlight of Brian's pretend bio, I suppose this will now be about Dennis. Dennis is a terrifying monster who eats rule-breaking kids. When he isn't eating rule-breaking kids, he can usually be found in the margins of The Book of Rules. Sometimes he eats the book. Technically, if you read to the end of the book, he eats the book. But, alas, sometimes grownups and kids don't make it to the end of the book. Sometimes things don't work out the way you planned. Like a bedtime story. Sometimes you just have to roll with it. Kind of like this bio. Dennis also likes bees. A lot. They keep him company since there's a bee on every page of The Book of Rules. Tom Knight has a thing for bees, I guess. Sometimes Dennis eats the bees. Sometimes he does not. The hidden emoji code for Kate's giveaway is a bee. Buzz, buzz don't burn out your retinas, kidlit fam. Good luck in the eclipse...

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October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
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