Monday, November 28, 2022

Q&A with Katie Otey




Katie Otey is the author of the new children's picture book Every Other Christmas. She lives in Illinois.


Q: What inspired you to write Every Other Christmas?


A: I’m divorced from my children’s father and it was my year to spend Christmas with the kids. I was so excited! I bought so many gifts and was in the middle of wrapping them when I got sick. It was the flu which triggered a massive asthma attack. On Christmas Eve, they admitted me to the hospital, where I stayed for almost a week. I missed Christmas and was feeling horrible about it.


But my kids showed up and they were so happy to see me. They were a bit rambunctious, and we got talked to at least once about the noise. That’s when I remembered that the biggest hope that I’d had was for them to be happy. And they were. Even if everything didn’t look as I’d planned. We were having a fun time, and we loved each other, so it counted.


I also realized that when I, as the parent, can’t spend every Christmas with them, as long as they’re okay, that’s what matters most. Every Other Christmas was written from my hospital bed that year but it and it warms my heart that the story resonates with so many people.


Q: The author Jessica DelVirginia said of the book, “Every Other Christmas highlights a modern family that is dedicated to keeping tradition alive. In this heartwarming story, we see that no matter where the main character is for the holidays, love from their family and love for their culture is always there.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think the description is spot on. Both parents love their child. They each have wonderful, heartwarming traditions that mean a lot to the main character as he alternates celebrating with his African-American mother’s side of the family and his Colombian father’s side.


Co-parenting is a very real way of life for many families now and a mix of cultures is also common. Every Other Christmas blends all of this together by not overtly calling attention to this. It’s simply a way of life for this child. You can tell from the voice as he tells the story that he appreciates the differences in their celebrations. He doesn’t have to choose. He’s a part of both. And he loves them just the same.

Q: What do you think S.J. Winkler’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Oh, the illustrations add a rich, beautiful, warmth to the story that definitely enhances every scene. She took photos of my family and home and of my time in Colombia and incorporated all of it into the story. The result is an authenticity that elevates the story in a way that the text alone would be hard to achieve.


I have many favorite spreads within the book but one of my favorite elements is what she did with cousin Tess and the stroller. I won’t spoil it but it’s been a huge topic of conversation within my family and a favorite for others as well.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: I hope kids who read this book get a sense that whatever their life looks like, whatever their culture, their language, their family structure, it’s all okay. It’s all relevant. I hope they think about what makes Christmas with their own family special and enjoy it even more.


But, most of all, I hope they enjoy this story for what it is, a fun look at Christmas with a special family, full of love, full of joy, full of tradition, just like their own family.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve written 10 books for kids so far and am currently on submission. As for what I’m writing, I’m working on a fantasy YA. It’s a book I shelved years ago because I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to take it in. I’ve since grown as a writer and I’m ready to tackle this story with all that I’ve learned over the last decade.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I founded an independent publishing company, Phoenix Media & Books. Our debut title is a picture book entitled Sister, which is a foster to adoption story told from the family’s daughter’s point of view.


My goal is to open up opportunities for more people to tell amazing stories while also providing a mentoring experience for them. So, there will be many debut authors and illustrators, a plethora of unique stories and ideas, and authentic representation throughout.


I think every one of us have value and our lives and experiences should be reflected in the media we consume. I’m only one person but I’m steadfast in my belief that all of us humans have more in common than the differences that sometimes divides us. What better way to show the world than within the pages of a book?


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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