Six Questions with Heather Ferranti Kinser
Heather Ferranti Kinser writes at the intersection of story, poetry, and nature from her home on the San Francisco Peninsula. She’s a former technical editor who now spends her days writing small stories—to make a big difference for kids! Her writing motto is, Inform, Delight, and Shine a Light! She is the author of In a Cave (Gnome Road Publishing), as well as Nature Is a Sculptor and Small Matters (both from Millbrook Press). Learn more about her work at HeatherKinser.com.
1. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Why?
I can remember pouring over the poems in Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, and running in to recite them for my mom. I was captivated by the linguistic cleverness of his rhyme and adored his off-kilter humor and drawings. My young poetic efforts were heavily influenced by Silverstein. But the picture book of my heart was The Little Brute Family, by Russell and Lillian Hoban. I was an extremely shy child, and something about the “little wandering lost good feeling” in the story, doing its uplifting work gently and warmly and quietly, spoke to me in a deep way.
2. Did you have a favorite teacher when you were a child? What made them so special?
In third grade we had a teaching team and rotated through three classrooms. I recall Mrs. Rock running us through a lesson where we had to tell her how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and each time someone skipped a step, she’d pause to demonstrate why the description wasn’t yet clear enough. If a kid said, “Get peanut butter and put it on,” she’d respond with something like—“Put it on…my hand? the desk? your head?” It was a fun lesson in adding details. But I owe the most to Mrs. Zemple, who set up a storytelling station where we could dictate into a tape recorder. Mrs. Zemple transcribed my tale—4-1/2 pages, on a manual typewriter—and sent it home, telling me, “You are a writer.”
3. What do you feel you’ve gained from being part of the children’s writing community?
I can’t say enough about the warmth and generosity of the children’s writing community. I love being part of it! I especially love what it has taught me, through the process of being a critique partner, about boosting others. I prize the friends I’ve made in this community. Most of all, it’s truly a unique privilege to read the work of writers who are striving to put something fun and funny and beautiful and interesting and true onto the page, for young people.
4. Where did you get the idea for your most recent books?
I love rocks and always have. I used to collect rocks in the field behind my house, bring them home, and tenderly scrub them with a toothbrush under water to watch their beauty appear. And when I travel, I like to visit sites of geologic interest. So when I was searching the Next-Generation Science Standards for a topic that might become my next photo-illustrated nonfiction title, the “Earth’s systems” standard caught my eye. I began looking at photos of glorious geologic sites and mining my own memories…and a lyrical picture book flowed onto the page, as if it had been waiting there all along. That became Nature Is a Sculptor, my second photo-illustrated nonfiction title with Millbrook Press.
In a Cave, my title with Gnome Road Publishing, literally emerged from a cave tour. As I was winding through Mammoth Cave National Park during a family vacation, marveling at each wonder and reminding myself not to touch the delicate walls, the line “how to behave in a cave” began cycling through my mind. I emerged into the light, jotted down the line, and wrote the piece a few months later. It first came to me in rhyme and wanted to be a rhyming story, so that’s the direction I went with it. Liz Garton Scanlon’s In the Canyon was the mentor text I thought of most while constructing the piece.
5. If you could tell readers one secret about Nature is a Sculptor or In a Cave, what would it be?
The “tafoni” page from Nature Is a Sculptor is particularly personal to me since there’s a beach a day-trip from my home, called Bean Hollow, where I first discovered outcrops of this fascinating erosion feature. My younger daughter, who’d seen them first on a field trip, told me about this neat beach, so I went to see it and was blown away by the fascinating pock-marked rocks.
As for In a Cave, when I first wrote it, the piece was a little too focused on the do’s and don’ts of caving. My critique partners guided me away from being preachy and toward basking in awe and wonder. I owe them a lot, for this piece and all my books!
6. If you read your newest books to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
Rocks are awesome! And nature is awe-inspiring. Get out and explore, wherever you can. And keep your eyes, heart, and mind open to wonder. When you can’t get out and see the world, open a book. Your imagination can take you anywhere you want to go.
If you are a traditionally published author or illustrator with a picture book or middle grade book releasing in 2024 and you're interested in being featured on SIX QUESTIONS, email firstname.lastname@example.org