Some people immediately start writing and publishing their works in their youth. Others wait until after they have graduated from college before they publish their first work. Another group makes a midlife career change and then pursues their writing passion. Kay Winters falls into this latter category. After a teaching and international educational consultant career, Kay pursued her desire to write children’s books. First, she attended classes and started to write. Within no time, her books were published and received complimentary book reviews. Multiple children’s book awards attest to that fact. I caught up with Kay before she embarked on her latest researching road trip. Take a few moments to read my interview with Kay and learn more about her fascinating background and her writing tips.
I am honored that Kay sent me two books in exchange for this interview and an honest review. Kay will be participating in a book giveaway. See below for details.
Your bio states that you were a consultant for the American International Schools in Egypt, India, Nepal, Italy, Jordan, Israel and Greece. What did you learn about international education after working in those countries? Were you able to use any of the content knowledge obtained in the countries to write any of your children’s books?
At the American International Schools every attempt is made to keep current with the curriculum offered stateside, because the students come and go, so the programs were very similar to those at home. Of course in countries like Egypt ,Nepal and India and Jordan, social studies included more in depth experiences and background on those environments. .
Voices of Ancient Egypt came right out of my experience being in Egypt twice. When I went to visit the tombs, particularly the tomb of the nobles which had multiple pictures of servants doing various tasks, I thought that I wanted to do a book about the ordinary people who lived long ago.
You spent the first part of your career as a teacher. What prompted you to switch directions and pursue a writing career? What were the first steps that you took to make this transition? Can you share 3 tips for anyone who is trying to become a children’s writer?
I loved teaching but I had always wanted to write children’s books.
In 1992 an author-illustrator did a school visit in one of my schools, and I sat there thinking… this is what I’ve always wanted to do. Two weeks later the school board offered early retirement. I took it and started all over again with a new career. I went to the New School in New York for 3 semesters and I wrote, and wrote and wrote.
Three tips: Write it. Let it breathe. ( at least a week without looking at it. ) Look again. Rewrite it. ( More breathing time.. 2 days.) Rewrite.
Share with writer’s group. Let it breathe. Rewrite. When it’s ready. Submit.
What was the greatest challenge that you faced as a new writer?
Not giving up when the manuscript was rejected.
How did your background as a classroom teacher, reading teacher and teacher of other teachers affect your writing career?
It’s been invaluable. And I continue to go to schools on a regular basis, doing school visits to keep current with practices and curriculum.
In recent years, educators and administrators have focused their attention on Common Core Standards. Have you made an effort to make your books compatible with these standards or are your books written for a general kid audience? Do any of your books have compatible materials that can be used by classroom teachers or homeschooling parents?
Most of my books have been mentioned in connection with Common Core standards, although they were written before the Core was published. Now I read the standards at each of the grade levels I am writing for. But I wish that standardized testing was not taking the toll on teachers, students and learning that is currently the case!
Many children prefer not to read non-fiction books. What methods do you use to make history engaging for children? How much research is required before you start writing?
My experience is that in general ( not hard and fast rule) girls prefer fiction, boys like non-fiction. Obviously there are exceptions.
When I was a kid I hated history. Now that I am writing biographies and historical fiction. I love it! When I had history in school… they forgot to share the story piece of history. That’s what brings it alive!
Congratulations. I understand that your most recent book, Voices From the Oregon Trail was selected by the Junior Library Guild to be included in their 2014 list. Can you describe how your trip along the Oregon Trail affected your ability to write this picture book?
It made all the difference! Example: When I saw for myself a re-enacted river crossing, where a horse fell into a hole in the Snake River, threw off the rider and disappeared. We did not find out til the next day, if the horse survived. It brought to life for me the daily dangers these brave pioneers faced, and kept on going, walking 2000 miles.
Voices From the Oregon Trail includes a cross-section of 15 different personalities. Since the book falls under the category of historical fiction, how much leeway did you have in creating these voices? What type of primary and secondary resources did you consult before writing their narratives? Were you able to work directly with your illustrator, Larry Day, in order to coordinate your words with his pictures?
I created the characters using details of their daily lives from diaries of trail travel, and visits to all of the Trail Centers along the way. Here I saw dioramas, clothing, artifacts, heard accounts from historians and storytellers.
Larry Day and I work very closely together. My husband and I took slides of the trip both at the various locations and inside the trail centers. We sent them to Larry. I sent him various references, diary accounts etc. He would write or call with questions. He is very meticulous about his illustrations.
Prior to writing Voices From the Oregon Trail, you wrote Voices of Ancient Egypt (National Geographic) and Colonial Voices (Dutton). Although similar in nature, these books were published by different entities. Are you planning to write any other children’s books that focus on personal narratives? Why do you feel this format is engaging for children?
I am currently working on Voices of the Underground Railroad.
I thought this format would be intriguing for children because it brings the story of history to life. I know it works because I do school visits where children re-enact the voices in readers theater and the looks on the faces of the characters as they recite their words… says it all!
Many books have been written about the first day of school. What is unique about your book, This School Year Will Be the Best!?
This book is a celebration of school, featuring the funny, poignant, universal experiences that children have going back to school.
Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction? Do you have a favorite book in each genre?
Truthfully I love doing both. I can’t name my favorites.. it’s like asking a mother who is her favorite child!
Like many of your fellow authors, you are part of a writing group. Can you explain the pros and cons of being affiliated with such a cohort? Some of my readers may be interested in joining or forming a writing group. How did you find a compatible group of people? Can you offer any suggestions?
If you have a writers group made up of competent professionals, who do not feel competitive but cooperative and supportive , it makes all the difference! My writer’s group has been an essential component in my career as a writer. Three of us met at a conference, and started our group which has been together more than 20 years. SCBWI offers names of people in various localities who can connect and create a group.
Your website mentions that you do school visits. Can you briefly describe what your school visits include?
As a former teacher, my school visits are lively, interactive, educational and entertaining. With upper grade children in 5th and 6th, I send a script for readers theater which 13 children in each grade perform.
This is included at the end of our power point presentation. With the lower grades I do a poetry troupe, chorale speaking and other interactive materials. This is all described on my website under school visits. www.kaywinters.com
Are you currently researching or writing your next book(s)? If so, can you share any details or tentative publication date(s)?
Yes. Working hard on the Voices of the Underground Railroad. Off on a research trip next week. Due at the publisher in September 2014.
Kay, is there anything else that you would like to share with my audience?
It’s never too late to begin. I was 55. I now have 24 books published and am under contract. And I lOVE doing it!
Wolf Watch, Abe Lincoln, My Teacher for President- Bank Street- Best Books
Abe Lincoln, Voices of Ancient Egypt– Chicago Public Library Best Books
Abe Lincoln, CCBC Best Books- Junior LibraryGuild.
Voices of Ancient Egypt– Booklist- Ed Choice, ALA & CBC- Notable Social Studies Book
Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak– Teacher’s Choice, IRA, Winner of Carol Otis Hurst Children’s Book Prize
The Bears go to School. Teacher’s Choice. IRA.
Voices of the Oregon Trail . Junior Library Guild.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, June 1 will be eligible for a book giveaway. The randomly selected winner will be sent an autographed copy of one of Kay Winters’ books.