Get to Know… Emmy Kastner!

My name is… technically Emily Anne Kastner. My grandma has always called me Emmy, as well as other family and some friends. I opted for the more familiar name on my books, as that’s the kind of relationship I aim to have with my readers. I’ll answer to Emmy, or Em, or Emily. An old softball coach used to call me Auntie Em. No need to call me that now unless you’re my nieces or nephew. And I’ll always look up where I am, whenever I hear “Mom!”

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I am a… curious person by nature, a natural teacher. Not that I think I’ve got loads of wisdom to edify the masses with… I just enjoy learning, community building, and communication in a way that makes for an engaging teaching/learning environment. This has taken shape for me both in the traditional sense as I was a high school science and English teacher, but also in youth-serving spaces through my life as a camp counselor, serving on student council back in the day, and more recently in adulthood as co-founder of Read and Write Kalamazoo. Inspired by the 826 National model when I was living in San Francisco, my friend Anne Hensley and I co-founded a literacy-based nonprofit here in Kalamazoo, Michigan that aims to celebrate and amplify youth voices.

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As a kid, I was… either trying to make everyone laugh, was writing, or drawing. I had grand plans to have many careers: I was certain I’d be a writer and star on Saturday Night Live, a writer/illustrator of picture books, play the bass clarinet for the New York Philharmonic, a teacher, a photojournalist for National Geographic, a marine biologist, and a mom. I was obsessed with my dad’s electric typewriter, which made working on “my first chapter book,” The Bear Who Came Alive quite professional. I spent the bulk of my childhood living in the woods with no neighbors that were my age close by. I lived in such a vivid imaginary world which from the outside looked like a girl talking to herself and running/dancing/leaping around (which was great material for my big sister to poke fun). Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory series feels like an accurate representation of my childhood.

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Writing is… beautiful. I am such a fan of words. My favorite question to hear in the world is, “Can I read this to you?” Yes. The answer is always yes. As a teacher, or popping into our writing center at RAWK and having kids come running with some fresh words on the page, a friend asking to read a story, my kids showing me a new comic they’ve created … that question is always the best. Yes. Please read to me. Words are powerful. Writing connects us, show us corners of ourselves yet undiscovered, and opens our eyes to experiences and people different from ourselves. Empathy! Words move us to FEEL and GO and DO! And to have the ability to pick up a pencil, a pen, to open a computer and to build people, entire worlds, and to craft their stories? That is remarkable!

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Illustrating is… exciting, sometimes scary, often unexpected. I have always been drawing and painting, as I’m a visual learner and, really, it’s a lot of fun. I have always been drawn to art that is loose, modern, and often imperfect, but have always but strange expectations on my own art. Second guessing myself artistically has always been a hurdle to putting it out there and sharing it with anyone. It wasn’t until adulthood that I really embraced my art in a way that I wanted to share it publicly. The pairing of words and art has always been magical, both to witness and create. To fill in the spaces between words, and play with the conversation between words and art on the same page… that has been a driving force for me to navigate this adventure of being an artist, more specifically a writer and illustrator of children’s books. And to my surprise when I started to dip my toe in the water of publishing and connecting with an agent, the three agents I queried all loved my art and had kind, generous suggestions referencing the story as the component that needed more finesse.

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Reading is… not always something I was deeply in love with. I liked it alright, but was not the kid reading a book at recess. Early on I wanted books that made me laugh (like Amelia Bedelia), or books that were about the characters in the TV shows/movies I loved. The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover checked both those boxes! I was also obsessed with Sunday comic strips. Snoopy! I really fell in love with reading in 5th/6th grade when my fantastic teacher, Mrs. Owings, shared books with us that opened my eyes to the world. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry were gorgeous stories that taught me so much about the power of reading books. I cried. I was confused. I was moved to find answers and do something in the world to make a difference. Reading! That’s power.

 

Books are… beautiful. Many hands and hearts touch the making of every book. I just love that. My preschool was at a library and I slept with books in my bed. And I don’t mean falling asleep reading them, though I probably did that too. I would tuck them in beside me, under my pillow, at my feet. Books were, and still are, such a comfort. My son and daughters all do the same thing! It’s like when Wendy grows up in Peter Pan and her kids are doing the same things she did as a kid. Am I making that up? That happened, right? Maybe it’s the movie I’m thinking of? Either way, my kids are doing the same thing I did, which is a universal phenomenon (but maybe not a part of Peter Pan…). There’s a gravitational pull between book people. More book people in the world means more connections between us all.

Did you know… 12 more moons were discovered circling Jupiter this summer? I’d just turned in final art/copy for Nerdy Babies: Space and I received texts from a few friends giving me the heads up with a link to the news. Though we’re learning new things about the solar system every day, I did include the fact that Jupiter has 67 moons on a spread in the book. I excitedly sprang the newly discovered moons on my editor and had the green light to add 12 moons to the illustration, and revise the copy to accurately tally Jupiter’s moons at 79. I’m grateful for the scientists who made the discovery before the books went to print.

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You can find me… in my studio making art and writing, above our coffee shop in Kalamazoo. Though I am grateful that this is the spot I frequent most, I’m ideally found at our favorite beach on Lake Michigan. More conveniently, you can find me on social media, most likely distracting myself from work making/sharing stories on Instagram: @emmykmakes. And, the first two books in the series, Nerdy Babies: Space and Nerdy Babies: Ocean, will make their ways to shelves at a bookstore near you via Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press on May 7, 2019!

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