Thursday, April 4, 2024

Q&A with Kelly Bennett


Kelly Bennett is the author of the children's picture book The House That Ruth Built. It focuses on Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium. Bennett's other books include the picture book Not Norman. She lives in Houston and in Westhampton Beach, New York.


Q: What inspired you to write The House That Ruth Built?


A: The idea for The House That Ruth Built sprang from one of my daily seven-minute poetry prompts.


I have written a poem a day every day since March 17, 2016; that is 2,788 days—eight years—with only one miss (and two excused absences). There are few things—brushing my teeth, eating—that I can honestly say I have done as religiously.


The poem-a-day challenge began as a dare, a contest really, between me and my VCFA writing bud, Cindy Faughnan. Each day, after writing our poem, we send it to each other, for accountability purposes, not quality control.


Most of the poems aren’t much, some have snippets worth keeping, a few have been worth keeping and working on. Some have been published. A few of the poems sparked picture book ideas.


Cindy generates the daily prompts; we take turns creating the weekly prompts posted to my blog, Kelly’s Fishbowl.


The House That Ruth Built sprang from “Riff off a Nursery Rhyme” prompt. I’ll bet you can guess which nursery rhyme I chose. Yep, “The House that Jack Built.”


Q: What do you think Susanna Covelli’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Susanna Covelli’s illustrations make the book!


We, the team at Familius led by co-founder and CEO Christopher Robin, a big baseball fan, set Susanna a difficult challenge: Knowing that this book might be readers’ first introduction to historic baseball, and certainly to the original Yankee Stadium, the entire team was committed to recreating the look of the stadium, and the time, and the feel of the game accurately, while making it vibrant and interesting to modern readers.


Susanna rose to the challenge brilliantly. Each scene is infused with so much life and detail it tells its own story. How about that scene with the ball flying “Up-Up-Up!” It’s no surprise her illustrations for The House That Ruth Built have been called “Rockwellesque.”


You should check out her other work! She is an artist chameleon! Her ability to adapt her palette, style, energy to complement the story is amazing. And she is brilliant with revision suggestions—which is not always the case with illustrators.


Artistic creativity is one thing, but historical accuracy is something else. We bombarded Susanna with images, and she brought the game to life.


I need to give a shout out to Carlos Mireles-Guerrero, who designed the book to resemble a 1923 Baseball magazine and carried the design throughout with such attention to detail—including framing the sidebars with a baseball and bat border.


In truth, for the whole Familius team this book was a labor of love, an homage to America’s sport. Yes, I am gushing!


Q: As you noted, the book includes a lot of information relating to Babe Ruth, Yankee Stadium, and baseball in general. How did you research it, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: So much research! From the moment I started shaping the simple seven-minute prompt poem into a picture book manuscript, I had imagined a picture book with nonfiction “info-bites” as I called them, sprinkled throughout.


I began by paginating the manuscript. Once I knew what part of the game each scene would show, I imagined what Susanna would illustrate. Then I jotted down ideas for possible sidebars ideas.


Because the story begins with the stadium, on the first spread I listed details about the stadium. In the scene where hawkers and fans are filling the stadium, I listed what foods they sold. And in the scene where everyone is waiting to see what happens next, I teased it out with sidebars about the longest and shortest games ever played.


And because the book finishes before the game is over, in the end note I told the rest of the story about the game, and about some much more that happened in Yankee Stadium.


Librarians are my heroes! I checked out every book I could find on Yankee Stadium, Babe Ruth, and baseball history, especially trivia books. I was looking for the “fun” facts.” Thank you, Interlibrary Loan!  


I started reading, taking notes, making files of trivia, facts, details I thought child readers would find interesting.


I visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore, the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, and I scoured the internet.


During Covid I was treated to a private tour of Yankee Stadium and the Yankees Museum—which is free to game ticketholders by the way.


Factchecking was the crucial part. Researchers at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Brian Richards, the NY Yankees Museum Curator, folks at the Library of Congress, SABR, and more all helped to check and double check that I had my facts correct.


Baseball historians are fanatical when it comes to everything baseball! And everyone was so helpful providing information, pointing me in the best direction.


The most surprising thing, which really should come as no surprise, is that sportswriters/writers embellish the truth, so you really can’t trust all that you read in the news.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book, and what do you see as Babe Ruth’s legacy today?


A: I want kids to want to go to a baseball game. And play ball!


My hope is that the book will foster intergenerational connections.

In the same way that my grandfather, to whom the book is dedicated, shared his love of baseball with us, I hope child readers and their adults will all find something in the book to enjoy.


For not baseball fans it might be the big question: Can Babe do it? Can he hit a home run? Others might laugh at the old-timey pictures. Baseball trivia buffs can enjoy the sidebars.


Babe Ruth, a boy whose grew up in a Boys’ home, an at-risk child who was late to read and write, grew up to become a superhero--the most famous baseball player of all time. The most well-known baseball player still today.


Records he set, as a pitcher and as a hitter still stand. Two strikes down, he stood up there at the plate and took a swing at it! He gave it his best. They can too! As he famously said, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: More Babe Ruth, of course! While researching The House That Ruth Built, I kept coming across “nuggets of truth” Babe said, mostly about baseball, but which also apply to life, about success, failure, striving to do one’s best.


I also had the good fortune to become acquainted with Tom and Brent Stevens, Babe’s grandson and great-grandson, respectively. Now along with Brent Stevens and Stu Dressler, Brent’s partner at, I am compiling an inspirational book of Babe Ruth quotes and photographs. 


O.M.B. Out of the Mouth of Babe, also published by Familius, will debut Spring 2025.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes! Pure fun and fantasy! Rainbow Kite, my new picture book about how a plain kite with a scraggly tail in the hands of an imaginative child inspires other neighborhood kids to fly, illustrated by K.M. Brown, comes out from Young Dragon this August.


And, have no fear, I’ll keep brushing my teeth and writing a poem a day. Anyone wishing to dip a quill into the poetry pool can find the 7-Minute Poetry Challenge on my website. Click on Fishbowl:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb


  1. Dear Deborah, thank you for inviting me to be a guest! Your excellent questions gave me a chance to reflect on the process.

  2. You're very welcome!