Six Questions with Kerri Kokias
Kerri Kokias is the author of Snow Sisters (Knopf, 2018), Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000) and You Might Be Special (Kids Can Press, 2021). Her next book, A Person Can Be…, will be published with Kids Can Press in Fall 2022.. Kerri credits most of her story ideas to her "fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. Kerri lives in Seattle, Washington, with her family. To learn more about Kerri and her books, visit her website.
1. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Why?
My favorite book growing up was the collection of poems Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I have good memories of my dad reading it to my brother, sister, and me at bedtime. I like Silverstein’s clever and somewhat irreverent sense of humor. Our favorite poem was, "Sick," which is about a girl who dramatically fakes being too sick to go to school only to find out that it's Saturday. My dad probably read that one to us over a hundred times. I can still recite it today!
2. What kind of student were you? What were your favorite subjects?
I was the kind of student who tried to be invisible. I spent most of class-time obsessively hoping that I wouldn’t get called on. My favorite subject was English. I loved being read to in the younger grades (no chance of being called on, so I could relax.) And by third or fourth grade I started getting positive feedback on writing assignments. I also really liked learning cursive, even though it never stuck and my print handwriting is truly atrocious.
3. What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has given you?
The best piece of advice I ever received was to, “doubt the doubter." I am so good at doubting myself and the world around me that a perceptive mentor recognized this and told me it was probably hopeless for me to try and quiet the doubter in myself, but that I could use my super doubting powers against themselves by doubting the doubter.
4. Where did you get the idea for this book? What was your inspiration?
You Might Be Special is formatted as a quiz inviting readers to determine just how special they are. I don’t think there was a specific moment where the idea popped into my head, rather it was a merging of a several different interests and objectives that I had for my writing. I wanted to write something that was interactive between the reader and child since a big piece of why I love picture books is the opportunity they provide for adults and children to connect. I loved (and still love) doing those self-help type quizzes that appear in magazines, and thought that this would be fun to incorporate into a book. And I wanted to write something sillier and rowdier than my other books, but that still felt warm and fuzzy.
5. If you read this book to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
I love seeing this book read at story times because its game-like interactive format tends to engage the whole group, including those kids who are typically less interested in books. I especially like watching those kids that are perhaps a little cynical and react sarcastically at first come around and enjoy the book. I want everyone to feel like they were included in the story.
6. What’s a particularly striking or memorable reaction someone has had to this book?
A kindergarten teacher contacted me through Instagram and had done a whole lesson based on the book. The kids created their own quiz and then decorated a bulletin board in the hallway for the rest of the school to participate in. Later, the kindergartners' first-grade buddies did their own project and responded to the kindergartners with hand-drawn characters from the book assuring the younger kids that they are special. It was so heartwarming to see!