The Children’s Book Review | June 26, 2014
Katherine James is the collective name of three sisters who grew up in a small town nestled between cornfields. As children they would roam from dawn to dusk, climbing trees, catching catfish and picking wildflowers until the dinner bell rang. At dinner time, blessings were counted. Life was simple and MAGICAL!
On special occasions the girls’ parents told them of THE SUGAR PLUM TREE and they awoke to small candy treats or TREASURE waiting under their beds.
It’s this TRADITION, of POETRY IN ACTION, the girls now hope to pass on to your family.
Bianca Schulze: The Sugar Plum Tree is your first children’s book and you were inspired by one of your own family traditions. Will you share a little about this tradition and how it began with your family?
Katherine James: When we were little, our parents would tuck us into bed by telling us the story of a magical tree that grew candy, The Sugar Plum Tree. They would give us a kiss goodnight and say that if we stayed in bed and slept all through the night, we might find something special under our bed when we woke in the morning. Sometimes we would get candy, sometimes it would be a special note or stickers. Our parents would always explain, no two dreams are alike and every dream can bring something different. (Which really translates to anything they had around the house would be special if we found it under our bed in the morning.) They were very clever! And, they shared the story with our babysitters and grandparents to use on special occasions as a fun and engaging way to get us to go to sleep.
Now that we are grown and have children of our own, we have continued the tradition of sweet dreams and morning surprises!
BS: What do you hope readers will take away from a story-time session ofThe Sugar Plum Tree?
KJ: It’s all about spending time together and creating memories. It requires adult participation. The magic starts with the parent (or caregiver.) Going to sleep can be the start of an adventure at the end of the day.
BS: Being based on the original The Sugar Plum Tree poem by Eugene Field’s (1850-1895), how long did it take you to make gentle modifications to his work and make this poem your own?
KJ: It was about a four-year project. We took our time researching the legality of modifying a written work in public domain. We spent a lot of time searching for just the right illustrator. But most of the time was spent on writing and re-writing to be sure we had stayed true to the poem and our family tradition.
BS: What kind of feedback have you been receiving from children that have read it? And what age groups have you found it resonates with the most?
KJ: Children love it! They love the magic that surrounds the story. Giving the child a real reason for going to sleep and staying in bed. The surprise under the bed is their reward. It’s fun and exciting! Most of our readers are ages 3-8 years old.
BS: Can you tell us a little bit about how the three of you collaborate under the one pen name of Katherine James?
KJ: We knew in the beginning that we wanted to pay a special tribute to our parents. A dedication page in the book just didn’t seem enough. And by the time we started designing the cover, using all three of our names seemed much too cumbersome. We combined our parent’s middle names and came up with Katherine James.
BS: The brightly colored cartoon illustrations are a vivid eye-catching treat, sure to make mouths water. Can you tell us about your partnership with Jan Dolby and why you selected her to be your illustrator?
KJ: Jan is amazing! We like to think of her as our 4th distant sister. And, we have never met! Everything was done via email and phone chats. She was completely able to put on paper the images we saw in our minds as children. She is truly talented!
BS: Which published children’s book author do you think has had the biggest impact on the way each of you write for children?
KJ: It’s hard to pinpoint just one. Growing up we had so many books! Our parents were very avid readers. Their love of books naturally flowed to us. It was perhaps their retelling stories to us, giving characters different voices, expanding story lines and our parents telling unique versions of classic tales that has remained with us the most.
BS: Do the three of you have continued plans to create more books together?
KJ: Yes! But our next project is getting The Sugar Plum Tree into a box set, a perfect gift and a treasured keepsake. The box will include the book and the Sugar Plum bag for collecting special treats.
BS: If you could each be reincarnated as your favorite literary character, who would you choose and why?
KJ: Mary Louise would choose Pippi Longstocking for her eccentric, self-assured, and superhuman strength.
Karen would choose Nancy Drew for her intuitive thinking and problem solving abilities.
Susan would choose Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon for her imagination and belief that you can create whatever you want.
BS: As a parting note, is there anything you would like to share with your readers?
KJ: Dream! Wish!Believe!
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Read The Children’s Book Review‘s full review of The Sugar Plum Tree.
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