The Children’s Book Review in partnership with Kathy Halliday Johnston
Kathy is an identical twin who believes everyone learns the same lessons in life just at different times in their life. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario, where she assists people struggling with brain damage and its long turn effect. She has a beautiful son and two awesome nephews. They are her inspiration when writing.
Finding Lisa is her first book. She started writing because when she was younger, the old saying it takes a village to raise a child was the case. She misses having younger children around and would like to contribute to the villages of as many children as possible.
Kathy reads and loves to spend time with friends and family. She would like to take this opportunity to thank anyone who buys her book. She hopes you enjoy reading it as much as she enjoyed writing it. Right now, Kathy is working on the completion of her second book, BEAR NAKED.
Here we discuss Finding Lisa and the wonderful message it imparts on young readers. If you’d like your kids to know that they don’t need to conform and fit in and that they only ever need to be themselves, Finding Lisa certainly delivers. You can read our review here.
A book with a clear message, Finding Lisa encourages tweens to be proud of who they are and to simply be themselves. (This is sometimes easier said than done.) Can you tell us why it felt important to you to write this story?
I am an identical twin. When I was younger, it was always (the girls) this or (the twins) that. It seemed like I never really knew who I was without my sister because I was no longer special without her. Once I had grown, and married circumstances changed, and we moved away from my small little town. My sister still lived in Durham, and I moved closer to my husband’s work. It was scary I had no friends, knew no one, and was looking for a job, a babysitter, and of course, friends. Years later, when my nephew mentioned that he felt like the young people he knew just did not seem to be incredibly happy and wondered what we could do to change that. I started thinking of the most challenging times in my life, and I realized that I did not feel confident. I concluded that once I figured out who I was, I no longer had a lack of confidence. I began to write, finding Lisa to help people realize once you are confident with the person you are. You genuinely feel that you are comfortable with the person you are. That is when you will find that your life has a purpose. That is when your true self prevails, and happiness also becomes comfortable.
What do you hope readers will learn or take away from reading your book?
I want children to know that it is hard to figure out want you like and what you do not like and even harder to figure out who you indeed are. The one thing you can not do is just follow along with what others want or do. You must try different things and experience relationships with different people to find out these things. It will never help you just to pretend or always follow along, never doing what you enjoy. You end up thinking you missed out. Every person in this world has a very special and uniqueness that only they have, and if you don’t give yourself the room to explore that, you don’t find it as quickly as you should have—which makes life that much harder. So, don’t cloud your life with lies or pretending it will only slow down your purpose and, in turn, slow down your happiness. Find your true self and set that self-free to explore your real life’s path. We were all put on this world for a reason, and I do not believe that reason was to act or behave like someone we are not. It is merely always telling the truth. Be kind, and thoughtful but never compromising your thoughts or feelings to make others feel like they are more important than you are. We are all here for a reason. Give yourself a straight path to find your purpose. You deserve your voice to be heard just the same as everyone else deserves their voice to be heard.
By combining reality fiction with the fantasy elements of Lisa’s dream, you bring a level of creativity to the storytelling that will appeal to younger and older readers. When you were writing this story, did you have a specific age-range in mind for who would be the most-suited audience?
No, I didn’t. I love to write. I have written a few articles. I journal and have written many letters when my son was just a baby. I used to write to him every birthday and Christmas. I would explain the year’s goings, the things he liked the most, and anything silly that happened. When I started writing Finding Lisa, I just started writing, and that is how it came out. I knew that it is hard to meet new people, even harder when you know absolutely nothing about them. I broke the new people up and represented them as different insects, and it seemed to work. I believe finding Lisa is a book for all ages; it does not matter if the story seems a little childlike. Sometimes even as an adult, I learn my most powerful lesson through the eyes of a child.
How did you decide to use Lisa’s dream as the catalyst for her self-discovery?
I wanted Lisa to reflect, step back, feel like she had a do-over, and didn’t want her to make any terrible mistake and hurt people in the story. If she had to pretend to be something she is not literally, it would be easier to understand. A dream is where you can be a fairy pretending to be a firefly or caterpillar. This gave me a way to represent differences clearly. It also gave me an easy way to come to a decisive end to each scenario. It worked very well to get my point across in the simplest way I knew how. It seems more challenging to do in the real world than in a dream where anything is possible.
The book is a quick and easy read, being an illustrated, short chapter book in a picture book format. It could aid discussions between children and their grownups. Do you anticipate that readers will use it this way? Maybe you have already heard from readers who have used Finding Lisa to support conversations?
Yes, I wanted to write a book that would be easy for children to read. It is a big deal for any child to finish their first chapter book. When I was young, I found it hard to stay interested in a long book, and Finding Lisa has some substance to it as it is almost 5000 words. After I was done, I just knew that adding pictures was the right thing to do. I did not want a simple image; I wanted a reward for finishing the page, a reason to continue reading so you could get to the next picture. I believe that reading is memorable and exciting. I wanted the picture’s reward to be wow because the prize should fit the accomplishment.
I have a friend from Africa who purchased one of my books to give to his friend’s daughter; she has very curly hair and didn’t like it because it was different. Her mother would get her up a half-hour earlier than anyone else to straighten her hair. One night my friend had read Finding Lisa to this eight-year-old before bed. She loved the book. However, he didn’t realize how much. The next morning the mother slept in; she woke her little girl up, thinking she would be mortified that they had no time for her hair. Instead, she said, “she didn’t want to straighten her hair that morning anyway,” the little girl said, “this is the way my hair is, and I think it’s pretty, and that is all that matters.”
Although grateful for the extra half hour sleep, the mother could not understand why the significant change in attitude. When she spoke to our friend, she told him what a relief it was that her little girl finally realized her hair was beautiful. However, she was still unsure of what brought about the change in attitude. “Was that after I read her the bedtime story?” When the mother verified that, indeed, it was that very next day. He said to read the book. The mother read the book and cried; she said I wish I had that book to read when I was a little girl.
The digital artwork bursts with plenty of pink and purple and represents a group of girls of diverse ethnicities. We would love for you to share with us the creative process for the artwork. Did you create the illustrations yourself? Or did you work closely with an illustrator?
The truth is the pictures had to be perfect. Like I said earlier, they were the reward for reading the previous page. I always knew that I wanted to try and represent diverse ethnicities. It just followed in beautifully with the different insects in the story. The illustrator had to want to quit; I was so hard on them. No, that is not quite right, or could you change this a bit. Every time they did it without one complaint, and in the end, we ended up with a book that we are both immensely proud of.
What part of being a self-published author have you come to appreciate the most?
I liked that I could do it at my own pace and change what I wanted to change. Complete control is excellent, and you never feel rushed. I was offered a partial contract where I was only to pay a third of the cost. I thought that the price was relatively high for the partial contract and believed I could do it cheaper myself. I wish I would have gone with the agreement. It is not the book that entails most of the cost; it is the advertisement. So, in the end, the ads that they were offering me going with the traditional partial contract would have been the better option. Live and learn.
What is something you own that feels most useful when you’re writing?
There are two answers to that, programs to help with my grammar and a computer to run them on. I would also have given up on this endeavor had I not had an excellent editor Lee Ann is a lifesaver as far as finding and fixing error for me and telling me when things just do not make sense.
What’s the last thing you experienced that made you laugh or cry?
I will sound sappy here, but I read my book to lots of people, and every time I do, there is a part in it that shocks me up. I can’t help it. The end of the very last paragraph makes me chock up every time, no matter how often I read it. When I am reading it to someone that just gets it well, then it’s even worse. I have tears running down my face. It is rather embarrassing.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about yourself, your writing, or Finding Lisa?
You never see two flowers, two snowflakes, two trees, or very much of anything in the world that is precisely the same. So why would we all not want to celebrate the differences that are all around? In my option, people in the world are different. We have different ways of living, different cultures, different beliefs. However, we live in a world that is not willing to acknowledge that. It is funny we have all these things that are different, and we will not discuss them. I have lived my life believing that knowledge is power. Yet, I could be sitting right beside someone I know nothing about and will not strike up a conversation with them.
I work with special needs citizen’s in my community. My absolute best friend has brain damage from when she was 15 and in a car accident. She is in a wheelchair. We have been out on thousands of occasions, and never once was she asked why she was in a wheelchair. She loves to tell her story. It makes her feel as if people hear her word; maybe they will not make the same mistakes.
It is time that we get to know the differences in cultures in personality and people. If we knew the answers to some of the questions we always wanted to ask but did not, maybe people wouldn’t feel so different from each other after all.
Finding Lisa has opened the door for several discussions about straight hair about skin color, and differences. From what I have been hearing, some children and adults alike accept what they think are their flaws and realize that they could be their greatest asset.
Written by Kathy Halliday Johnston
Publisher’s Synopsis: Learning life lessons is never easy, especially for Lisa, an 11-year-old girl who’s moved from the country to a strange, new city. Why can’t she make any friends? Why do the girls at school laugh at her? She tries to fit in with the smart girls, the prim and proper girls, and the sporty girls, but none of them accept her, it seems. She decides the only way to get friends is to pretend she is something she is not; that she is “one of them.” She makes up stories to impress them, only to be found out in a most humiliating way. Then Lisa has a strange dream, where she is a beautiful fairy but even in her dream, she has no friends. Again, she tries to fit in this time with the fireflies, the ladybugs, and the caterpillars. Will she finally make some friends and realize that you never have to pretend with your genuine friend? Will Lisa learn the true meaning of Friendship? Will she finally believe in the one person who will change her life forever? Will Lisa find her way? Will Lisa find Lisa?
Ages 7 and Up | Publisher: Independently Published | ISBN: 979-8672097992
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This interview—Kathy Halliday Johnston Discusses Finding Lisa—was conducted between Kathy Johnston and Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Life Lessons.
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