A podcast interview with Trudy Ludwig and Kathryn Otoshi
The Children’s Book Review
In this episode, I talk with two incredible award-winning guests, author Trudy Ludwig and illustrator Kathryn Otoshi, about their picture book Calling the Wind: A Story of Healing and Hope.
Listen to the Interview
TRUDY LUDWIG is a nationally acclaimed speaker and an award-winning author of numerous children’s books, including The Invisible Boy, a School Library Journal Best Picture Books Selection and a recommended back-to-school book by USA Today and Scholastic Teacher. Her books and presentations focus on promoting kids’ social-emotional learning skills and help empower them to be kinder, more compassionate, and more inclusive in their social world. Trudy has collaborated with leading experts and organizations, including Sesame Workshop, the International Bullying Prevention Association, Committee for Children, and ConnectSafely.org.
KATHRYN OTOSHI is an award-winning author/illustrator, best known for her character-building number/color book series: One, Zero, and Two. She is also the co-author of Beautiful Hands, a book about possibilities and reaching your dreams. She travels across the country to encourage children to develop strong character traits and to help readers and teachers find creative methods to engage and connect with their students through the power of reading, art, and literature. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Read the Interview
Bianca Schulze: Trudy, you’re officially a two-timer on The Growing Readers podcast today. And even more exciting is you’ve brought a friend with you. And I am so thrilled to have you here, Kathryn. So, Moshi Moshi.
Trudy Ludwig: Hello, Hello.
Bianca Schulze: Today, we’ve gathered to discuss the incredibly moving picture book you both created, Calling the Wind: A Story of Healing and Hope. And the origin story of this book, to me, is the true definition of poignant. It’s inspired by Itaru Sasaki’s Wind Telephone in Japan. And I’m hoping that one of you guys can pick would share some insight on the Wind Telephone and how you first heard of it.
Trudy Ludwig: Do you mind if I start? Kathryn?
Kathryn Otoshi: Go for it, Trudy.
Trudy Ludwig: Oh, thank you. See, Kathryn and I are work spouses. We get along so well. So, what happened was Kathryn and I have become good friends over the years. We both respect each other’s work, and we really get along well. And we were hoping to someday collaborate on this story together because it’s lonely on the road when you’re presenting as an author, and we’ve co-presented at conferences together and we get along quite well.
So, one weekend, Kathryn was in Portland, Oregon, and I was picking her up. She was going to spend a few days with me. And when I was on the way to pick her up downtown, there was a podcast going on, This American Life, about the Wind Phone. I was so mesmerized by it that as soon as Kathryn got in my car, I told her, you have got to listen to this podcast. And so as soon as we got home, we dropped her suitcases in the bedroom. I made her sit down and listen. Do you remember, Kathryn?
Kathryn Otoshi: Yes.
Trudy Ludwig: I made you sit down, listen to it, and I said, this is it. This is the book.
Kathryn Otoshi: That was it, our book.
Trudy Ludwig: We looked at each other and it was as if lightning struck us that this was a story. We knew it was an intense story, but it was an important one to share. So, our book is fiction, but it’s inspired by this actual Wind Phone that started in Japan, and so it started from there. We immediately started collaborating, and we’ve been working on it for four years.
Bianca Schulze: To pull from the book summary. Calling the Wind explores the stages of grief, the healing power of hope, and the unbreakable family bonds that connect us all. So besides being moved by the This American Life podcast episode, which I’m going to drop into the show notes because I listened to it, and it was amazing—I would love to know what you would say is your driving force behind sharing this beautiful idea of the Wind Telephone and coping with the challenging emotions that come with grief in a story for children? So, what was the driving force? You wanted to collaborate, you wanted to create a book, and you picked this story to tell. Why this story?
Kathryn Otoshi: I could go ahead and jump in.
One of the things is that sometimes we don’t know how to voice some of these big feelings that we have, and through the narrative, or sometimes through somebody else’s experience, we’re able to somehow open up. And the Wind Telephone just seemed like something so personal where Itaru Sasaki put up this telephone because his dear cousin had passed away. He wanted to find a way to still talk to him. So even though the rotary phone wasn’t connected to anything symbolically and emotionally, he felt that it was a way for him to communicate.
And Trudy and I had both been experiencing loss in our own lives. And, yeah, this book really struck home. The whole narrative of this man’s openness to finding a way to communicate with a loved one that had passed rang true for me. And I also wanted to find a way to express and voice the feelings that I had inside that didn’t know how to come out. So that’s, for me, where the driving force was.
Bianca Schulze: How about you, Trudy?
Trudy Ludwig: Well, I have been going through cumulative losses, and I’ve lost eight dear people, family members, or very close friends in the past seven years. And I felt that this story resonated strongly with me because I wanted to do something to find meaning. And that’s one of the stages—I don’t want to say that everyone has the same experience when they go through grief. It’s a very individual process and there’s no set pattern. But there are different types of stages that some people go through—other stages others don’t. I don’t want to say that that is a prescriptive process when dealing with grief, but I found that our book for me was a way for me to channel my grief in a very constructive way and to find meaning in my grief.
And it really was a personal journey. I think that’s why it took a while for Kathryn and me to do this because we were trying to process how we could express our grief in an age-appropriate way without being too traumatizing. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory of being a parent. You will inevitably have to teach your child about grief and loss, whether it’s the loss of a relative, a family friend, or a family pet. So how can we channel those feelings in a way to help kids understand this is a part of life and that when a life ends, love doesn’t—it continues.
Bianca Schulze: Trudy, I’ve heard you use the term ‘emotionally resilient’ in the past, so I have to stay with you for a minute just to listen to your thoughts on the meaning and importance of raising emotionally resilient children.
Trudy Ludwig: When I refer to emotionally resilient children is for caring adults in the world to help them understand that good coexists with the bad in life. As much as adults would love to get rid of all the hurt and loss in our children’s world, we’re not able to do that. But what caring adults and supportive friends can do is help us get through the hurt.
And when you’re talking about emotional resilience, I’m not talking about putting that whole burden upon that child, that they have to be strong. It’s a matter of support from the community because we rise together, right? We all rise together, and we need to have that support. And who can we lean on during tough times? Who do we feel safe leaning on? And we will go through tough times, but we’ll get through them because we have the high highs and the low lows. And happiness can be fleeting and ephemeral.
And so, we want kids to understand that joy and sorrow come hand in hand. And the important thing that I think with emotional resilience, with respect to grief, is that I think, as my mother would always say, she’d always tell me to reframe things. And that’s what I wanted to do about grief: you cannot have grief without love. They go hand in hand, right? And the more you love, eventually, the more you grieve. So, to me, it’s an honor to show that you cared about a person in your life.
Bianca Schulze: Kathryn, do you have anything you want to add?
Kathryn Otoshi: When Trudy was talking about emotional resilience, I was just thinking, because I’m an illustrator, about if you were going to draw out the waves and the ebb and flow, but life certainly isn’t like this linear path that keeps going up. We will have those highs and lows, and I think that’s the important part to remember.
And one of my favorite lines in your book, Trudy, is hope blossoms anew—to just remember that spring is coming. There’s this period where we’ll be honoring and feeling sadness. And again, it’s going to come back. It’s going to ebb and flow. It might soften. And we talked a lot, Trudy and I, about the wind, where although you cannot see it, it’s still there. Grief is that way. And love, the love we feel for somebody, is everywhere.
Yeah, I just wanted to go ahead and bring that up about how nature shows us how life ebbs and flows. The wind ebbs and flows, and so do these big emotions that sometimes we’re finding ways to find words to voice them.
Bianca Schulze: I imagine that creating this book, as you mentioned, both having experienced your own grief, that it provided a pretty healing experience for you. So, within Calling the Wind, I wonder if there is a particular moment in the pages that speaks most to you, Kathryn.
Kathryn Otoshi: One key thing that Trudy and I talked about quite a bit, but there’s flowers throughout the book, and they’re symbolic. And if you look, the vase is empty when all the families are sitting down and they’re not talking to each other. But as time goes on, more of the family members start adding to the bouquet, this beautiful little yellow bouquet of flowers. What happens is that the father is very upset because they’re out there going to the Wind Telephone, and he’s mad about the time, but of course, he’s really just upset about the whole situation. And he accidentally, inadvertently smashes the vase with all the flowers.
And he bends down, and he is kneeling, and he literally, as he’s picking up the flowers, he’s just picking up all the memories and bringing his face to it. And for me, it was a very emotional scene because that’s how you kind of feel about it, is that it just rushes in, and you tangibly feel it. And he looks at the shattered pieces and realizes that he needs to go ahead, and he wants to go to the Wind Telephone and speak to his loved one, the mother, who in the story has passed away.
Bianca Schulze: I want to just take a quick tangent before I go to you, Trudy, and see which pot speaks most to you. But after listening to this American Life episode, the part in that episode that, I mean, I was crying— was the young girl whose father had been missing since the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and she hadn’t spoken of the loss of her dad. And when she comes with her family to the Wind Telephone and she’s encouraged to speak and she doesn’t know what to say, but she just starts. And once she starts, she just lets go. And that release of just speaking to the wind was so incredibly, incredibly moving.
So again, I just had to go on that tangent because that moment came back to me after you shared that special part from your story, Kathryn.
Trudy, which part of your book, Calling the Wind, speaks the most to you personally?
Trudy Ludwig: It ties into what you and Kathryn have just talked about. One of my favorite lines I had written in that book was feelings too big to hold inside must find a way out. And that’s what it is with grief. You have to let those feelings out because they’re bigger than what you can contain. And that’s why it’s really important that they had a vehicle for releasing those feelings. And that was what that Wind Phone was all about, right? So, a safe space to voice the grief, and we all need to have a safe space to voice it because otherwise, it eats us up inside. We need to let it out of us. These are really big feelings, and we need to name those feelings and to experience them.
The thing is you can’t avoid grief. You can postpone it; you can be really busy. But grief has a way of knocking on your door and saying, I’m not going away. And there’s no timetable for grief. It ebbs and flows, just like what Kathryn was saying, which is why I loved how Kathryn— I felt that she created a wind to be another character in the story. Grief is the wind, and it’s gentle. It doesn’t have to be something to be afraid of. It carries you up. It holds you when you’re going down. But you’re on this ride, and it’s a journey, and there’s no time limit.
That was the other thing I wanted to show is we needed to show that time passes. And Kathryn did a beautiful job showing that visually because some people feel—and I hear this from people, well, it’s already been in a year, they need to get back to normal. But that’s not fair. I think our culture does a disservice by not talking about important things like grief, death, and loss. The story is it’s not just about death. It’s about a loss, a change of life. Maybe your family has moved, you’re mourning the loss of your friends, or your parents are going through a divorce, and your way of life is completely different now. You can grieve. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical death to grieve.
Bianca Schulze: I do have to call attention to you saying that, to quote your line in the book, feelings too big to hold inside must find a way out. And then you said, grief will continue knocking on your door. Right. You can’t hide from it. And I just have to let listeners know that the knocking you heard while Trudy was talking was not grief knocking at Trudy’s door. She is having her roof replaced. And it was just incredibly fitting, the timing of the knocking after you said that. So sorry. I had to just point out that if anybody’s listening, thinking they’re going crazy and they can literally hear grief knocking at their door, it is Trudy’s roof being repaired.
Trudy Ludwig: Yeah, I don’t have control over that, just like you sometimes don’t have control over your feelings. And that’s okay. You just got to ride those waves. Right, Kathryn?
Kathryn Otoshi: That’s right. Absolutely.
Bianca Schulze: So, Kathryn, you mentioned the vase. The vase had flowers that were not there at the beginning. And as spring comes, the flowers start going. And I noticed that in your color palette changing, the color palette changes in spring arises, and we begin to notice a healing moment. And I found the whole book so moving.
But I loved the moment when it was spring and the young girl in the book asked through the telephone, can you tell dad to get us a puppy? I just found that the sweetest little moment of much-needed just joy. And I’m just wondering, it took me four years to write the story. So how did you figure out how to tell this story in such a blossoming way? That light moment made me smile and almost giggle in a deep, profound way. How did you figure this out?
Kathryn Otoshi: I’m just going to mention one part of the aspect it was such a collaborative process, and I think it did take a while because we were using some of our life experience and putting it into the book. But originally, the illustrations were going to be collages. And Trudy and I had talked about these simple collage images, but after a friend of mine passed away, I was upset and just sketching things out, and it needed to be watercolors. And as Trudy pointed out, because I was crying when I was doing these illustrations, the initial sketches, she’s like, your tears are being mixed into the art.
And so, it wasn’t like we were working 24/7 on the book. So much of it was finding, for Trudy, I think, the right words, the right way to be able to express yourself through a haiku. And for me, finding the right illustration symbolically looking at the blues, looking at the yellows, and then, of course, combining those two colors to be spring.
But if you really look through the book, I use more muted colors. In the beginning, I start saturating those colors, especially having yellow being a symbolic point where they are the flowers, but they also represent the yellow bird that comes in and shows the way, which also represents the mother kind of watching over them. And then mixing all those colors in the end to create a sense that hope does indeed blossom anew. So, it was a whole combination of collaboration and Trudy going back and forth and doing many reiterations.
And one last thing I will say is thank you to Trudy, who allowed me to do illustrations because, in some scenes, we felt like maybe there were no words. Maybe it’s just the contemplation of how we’re just thinking in real life, and words can’t describe it. So let the pictures describe what’s going on in the narrative. So, thank you for that, Trudy.
Trudy Ludwig: Oh, you’re so welcome. So, the other thing I wanted to say and thank you, Kathryn. That’s really lovely of you. This is sort of a mutual admiration society both Kathryn and I have been having for years. I knew she was the right person to do this. We see things visually. She is an amazing artist, and she knows how to take it to a whole new level, and it really is.
Kathryn was saying it was an unusual collaboration. You don’t see this happening with picture books. Rarely do authors collaborate this way. We both were invested not only in words but also in the artwork. And Kathryn was open to suggestions of how we shorten the scene, so it’s not as long and how do we transition this character’s journey to the next character’s journey. So, it was a lot of openness and trust and whatever I suggested, and Kathryn was so open to it. Oh, my gosh. She took it to a whole new level visually than I could have even imagined with it. There’s so much feeling in there.
And the beautiful thing is that this is a book about hope. It’s about how we get through. And the beauty of hope and the beauty of human connection. And how we all need to be connected to get through life together. And what a beautiful journey we are on when we can do that.
Bianca Schulze: I was so obsessed with the color palette that you used, Kathryn, and the wisps of wind that, to me, are just so much more than wind.
I’m just curious. I have this moment that I’ll share where my dad passed away two weeks before my third child was born. My mom still lives in Australia, so my dad was in Australia. And I couldn’t fly on an airplane. It would not have been safe for my pregnancy to fly on a plane. I couldn’t go home. And in the last moment of my dad’s life, I was on the telephone, and I was speaking to my dad, and my mom didn’t understand it at that moment; he can’t hear you. And I said, mom, it doesn’t matter. I think he can, and I need to speak to him. And that was thanks to my husband. My husband was like, just talk. Just keep talking. That was my special moment through the telephone. It didn’t involve wind.
And I love just the concept of this telephone with the addition of the wind because it almost gives a voice coming back to you through the air. I want to hear both of your thoughts on how the wind plays a part in the story. People are spiritual; some people aren’t. Some people practice religion; some people don’t. And I just found this moment of wind—so I’m not finding the word to put to it. I’m hoping that one of you can put a word to the meaning of the wind in the story.
Kathryn Otoshi: Do you want to go ahead, Trudy?
Trudy Ludwig: Well, I think the opening scene with the boy who discovers the phone booth does share a bit. He’s questioning. He’s going to the phone booth. He’s not quite sure what will happen in the phone booth because he’s got this phone that’s disconnected. And he’s talking, and he says, I hear the wind? Is that you? I feel like you’re here somewhere.
And I think that’s the whole thing is the energy, the spirit. Whether you are a person of religious background or whether you’re spiritual or not, or whether you’re scientific and don’t believe in a particular God, we are comprised of energy. Our bodies are energy. And where does that energy go? It’s always there. It doesn’t disappear completely. And I think that that’s why the story really, for me, is really powerful, is because I think it answers or it calls out to people. I don’t know. It’s bigger than us. I don’t know how else to explain it.
Kathryn Otoshi: I agree. In some ways, I was seeing the wind and what we were saying before about ebb and flow, but it’s also the inhale and exhale, breathing in, taking in that moment, and then allowing for that release to happen. And so, there are multiple brushes that I kept trying for the wind. And ironically, it just ended up being this big, rough paintbrush that I would sort of load up the paint, and then I would move it through the illustrations, and sometimes that wasn’t even big enough. And so, I would physically get a big watercolor paper and just swish it through to get the right movement to feel that exhalation and also kind of the inhalation.
One of the things that our editor and art director had brought up is, wouldn’t it be interesting, since we’re introducing this as a character, to break up the panels? So as the character comes closer to the booth, go ahead and let the wind start going through and breaking up some of those panels. The other thing that was interesting about this particular book, at least for me, is the breaking up of the panels.
I’m very much of a big epic spread, double-page spread. And this particular book was broken up into a segment so that you can really see the different points of reflection. When the boy is thinking about going to the booth, you see him looking down, looking at the paper, walking through town, and finally getting there. But those are all ways, in a more cinematic way, to allow and express time passing without words at that moment.
Trudy Ludwig: A couple of things I love that you had said, Kathryn, when you were talking about breathing the air. The grass is symbolic of life, and that something is like the wind and air. And to be able to breathe in that air, it’s, to me, another affirmation about life continuing. It may not be the same, but we’re bringing that person with us forward. We’re not leaving them behind. We’re not leaving our family history behind. We’re taking them along with us on our journey in a different way. I think it’s really important.
I also wanted to mention that we were talking about this when we were pitching to our editor about doing this story. We went in, coming in as a team. If they just wanted my words and not Katherine’s artwork, I would not go. If they just wanted Kathryn’s artwork and not my words. No. We knew what we needed to do with this book, and we were so committed to it, which is also very unusual. We were taking a risk that way.
But the other thing, too, is we saw this book not as your typical picture book because it depended on Kathryn’s illustrations. Picture books are big ideas in small packages, but this one was a huge idea in a small package, and it was really crucial that the illustrations were talking to the reader, not just the words, the text. Wouldn’t you say, Kathryn?
Kathryn Otoshi: Yeah, absolutely. I think that is another reason why it took us a while to have this baby be born because we were being careful. You were also doing a lot of research on realizing that the stages are messy. Again, it’s not linear or sequential, and the expectations cannot be there. It goes back and forth, and we feel things strongly sometimes and not, but between that and our personal experience, I’m glad we allowed that time that we needed to make this book happen the way it did. Trudy.
Trudy Ludwig: Truly, it was a labor of love, but as I told Kathryn, it’s rebirth.
Bianca Schulze: Yes. And talking of rebirth and taking your life moments with you forward. Trudy, can you clarify this? But I believe that Kathryn’s artwork so inspired you in this that you’ve started dabbling in some watercolor artwork yourself.
Trudy Ludwig: I actually have. I was so in awe. And you know what? When I started doing the artwork, I went on YouTube and did beginner videos. I have nothing but even more appreciation for what Kathryn has done. I’m like, how did she do this? I’m trying it.
But this is the other thing that I love, is that it’s a really important lesson for me to do something for the fun of it, that I have no idea what I’m doing. But it’s the process, and it’s a very humble reminder. When you spend your years honing your craft as a writer, you can kind of take it for granted after a while. And the artwork, for me, is how all artists started when they were young, and they just kept honing their skills, learning, crafting, going to school, and then years of work. And I’m just trying to do this for the joy of art and how healing art is.
And we’ve come up with, I think, a really good slogan for our story is, it’s a story with heart, with the word art in it. Because art is a way of healing, and books are a form of art. And I think that they give us a way to heal our souls. Artists are extremely important. So that’s why I see the story as a story with heart.
Bianca Schulze: I also want to add that in the back of the book, you’ve included resources on grief, the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, the Dougy Center, the National Grief Center for Children and Families, and the National Alliance for Children’s Grief. And I just want listeners to know that I’ll also pop those links to those resources in the show notes.
And as I mentioned in our podcast episode a few weeks back, Trudy, when we talked about Brave Every Day, I always love it when authors and illustrators in the back of those picture books have those extra resource notes. They’re so enlightening and help further conversations with your families and your kids when you read together. So, I love those additional resources in the back.
Trudy, Kathryn, this is a question for both of you. If listeners were to go about their day now and could only take one thing away from this discussion, what would you want that to be?
Trudy Ludwig: That’s a really tough one in terms of what I want the reader to walk away with. I think the last line in the story. That even when a life ends, or a way of life ends, love still lives on. Love still lives on, and so does hope, and we get through this life with each other. As you can see, when we start to share our feelings, big feelings need to be shared with people in safe ways. And I think that’s what we wanted to share here is there are different ways of sharing your feelings, but it’s important to share them with people you feel safe with, and that’s how you can heal. It’s part of the healing process.
Kathryn Otoshi: And I agree, especially the last line, love lives on is to realize that the connection is still there. Our connection with other people, our community, and our loved ones, whether they’re here physically with us or not, continues. And that’s what sort of bonds us together as human beings, is that level of connection and community and being able to express some of these big feelings with each other. That’s how we feel that love and connection, and it continues on.
Bianca Schulze: Yes, thank you so much. And I just want to honor my 11th-grade Japanese language lessons and honor the origin story of this book, the Wind Telephone, that came from Japan. So, I want to say domo arigato gozaimasu. Thank you very much for being on the show.
Kathryn Otoshi: Thank you.
Trudy Ludwig: Thank you so much. It’s been a joy to talk with all of you.
About the Book
Created by Trudy Ludwig and Kathryn Otoshi
Ages 4+ | 48 Pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers | ISBN-13: 978-0593426401
Publisher’s Book Summary: Inspired by the Wind Telephone in Japan, this poignant story explores the stages of grief, the healing power of hope, and the unbreakable family bonds that connect us all. From the acclaimed author of The Invisible Boy and the award-winning illustrator of One.
In a small village in Japan, a family mourns the loss of their loved one. Each family member grieves in their own way, but it is not until they discover an old-fashioned telephone booth on a windswept hill that they begin to heal. Through the telephone, they are able to express feelings long bottled up–speaking directly to their loved one and also to each other. Slowly but surely, the pain subsides, and hope blossoms anew.
Inspired by Itaru Sasaki’s Wind Telephone, which brought healing to the people of Japan in the wake of an Earthquake and tsunami this story explores grief and loss, and how we move forward by finding meaningful ways to connect with the family and friends we’ve lost, as well as those who are still with us.
Buy the Book
- About Calling the Wind: A Story of Healing and Hope.
- Get to know author Trudy Ludwig and illustrator Kathryn Otoshi.
- How a podcast episode and true story inspired Calling the Wind: A Story of Healing and Hope.
- About Itaru Sasaki’s Wind Telephone.
- A discussion on grief and emotional resilience.
- The healing of creating a picture book and making art.
Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: Trudy Ludwig and Kathryn Otoshi Discuss Calling the Wind: A Story of Healing and Hope. For the latest episodes from The Growing Readers Podcast, Follow Now on Spotify. For similar books and articles, you can check out all of our content tagged with Books about Grief, Hope, Kathryn Otoshi, Loss of a Parent, Picture Book, and Trudy Ludwig.