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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - KEILA DAWSON

I'm so happy to feature my friend Keila Dawson on the blog today. I'm looking forward to the January 2021 release of her newest book, OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK. Keila is inspired by her own curiosity and by historical events - she shares her thoughts below about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Keila!

1) STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.

Thanks for having me back on your blog, Melissa!

My inspiration comes from curiosity. I enjoy history and studying historical events that I didn’t learn about in all the years I’ve spent in school. So the day I heard the story on the radio about the Green Book and how Black Americans used it to travel safely during legal segregation, I fell down a research rabbit hole. I wanted to learn more about the guide and the man who wrote it. It didn’t take much for me to realize Victor Green was one of those “hidden figures” in history that I thought kids should know about. I couldn’t find a lot about Victor Hugo Green himself, but I read his guides and the letters and articles he wrote included in them, newspaper articles, and learned about historical events happening during the same time he published his Green Book guides.

The real challenge was connecting all the pieces to form a story ARC. I wrote different beginnings and endings. But when I decided on an opening that reflects an experience kids understand - being told “no” - and one we’re all familiar with, this helped me to think of a way to end with a “yes”.

2) CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

In writing, I experiment with sentence structure, limiting the length of sentences for kids to slow down or pause, and reflect. In analyzing my own writing, I seem to like alliteration – a lot! That’s not something I plan, but probably because I like the flow of the sounds.

Outside of writing, I think I am the most creative when I’m having fun. And that’s what I think about when planning activities that kids can use with my books. I look for ways to keep kids engaged during virtual visits given we are all experiencing Zoom fatigue. And I’ve become obsessed with using props! Like this bullhorn I use when talking about NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY.

Last year, I came up with an idea to write a blog post about how to host a King Cake Party as an activity to use with THE KING CAKE BABY. And taught the grandkids of a friend how to bake an Easy Peasy King Cake.

3) CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOM! I think that’s a popular platform all authors are using to keep connected these days! I’m doing bookstore story times, virtual school visits, using apps and platforms new to me like Marco Polo and Flipgrid to reach my young audience. The last time I uttered the words Marco Polo was in a pool with my kids many years ago!

Recently another author and I had an idea to form a group and invited like-minded authors and illustrators to join us in a new endeavor. We are working out our goals and hope to go public soon!

I think more than ever because of the extreme isolation, it’s important to stay connected to the writing community. Since so many in-person events have cancelled, I’m attending conferences online and I’m looking forward to my first Kindling Words East virtual conference in January. I will continue to be a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Challenge and Arree Chung’s Storyteller Academy in 2021. And I will continue to write author studies and celebrate the work of other creatives on the Reading For Research Month blog (ReFoReMo). And I hope to join more panels at library association meetings and nErDCamps next year. I joined Multicultural Children’s Book Day this year as an Author Sponsor.

Thanks for being part of my writer’s village Melissa!


Keila V. Dawson is a former educator and co-editor of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 2020) and the forthcoming NO WORLD TOO BIG: YOUNG PEOPLE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE also with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, Spring 2023). She is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith (Pelican Publishing 2015) and the forthcoming OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson is a New Orleans native and has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.



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