Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Q&A with Kate Hannigan




Kate Hannigan is the author of the new children's picture book biography Josephine and Her Dishwashing Machine, which focuses on the life of inventor Josephine Garis Cochrane. Hannigan's other books include A Lady Has the Floor. She lives in Chicago.

Q: Why did you decide to write a children's picture book biography about Josephine Garis Cochrane?


A: A lot of my projects start from a simple question. For this one, I was asking friends, Can you name an early woman inventor? Or any woman inventor, really? A safe answer when it comes to women's accomplishments is to shout, "MARIE CURIE!" She covers a lot of bases.


But I could not name anyone, so I started to dig around. That's when I began reading about Josephine Cochrane and her dishwashing machine. And I give thanks to her on a daily basis!


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I love the Chicago Public Library and visit my local branch frequently, sometimes twice per week. So when I launch a project, I always start with finding books on my subject.


But Josephine's story was not well-known, so I headed downtown to the marvelous Harold Washington Library, the mothership of our Chicago library system. Two librarians were especially helpful in showing me how to access newspaper archives there. I was off and running.


The biggest surprise in learning about Josephine's life is realizing she was an entrepreneur as well as an inventor. She said she didn't want to let go of the thing, so as her dishwashing machine took off, she did the unthinkable and stayed on to run her company.


That was a surprise discovery, because we don't hear too often about women at the helm of businesses back in those days.


Q: What do you think Sarah Green's illustrations add to the story?


A: I am captivated by Sarah Green's illustrations. I could wallpaper my house with this book! It's that pretty. I love how she weaves in blueprints and tools among the dainty teacups that Josephine Cochrane wanted to protect!


Plus, I think her rendition of Josephine Cochrane looks a lot like Rosamund Pike, an actress I adore! Haha!


I've seen Sarah's other books and thought her style was just perfect for Josephine's story. So I was over the moon when I learned she would illustrate this project.


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


A: I whisper a little thanks to Josephine every night when I run my dishwasher! So I'd say her legacy lives on!


What I hope kids take away from the book is an understanding that the things around us came about because somebody dreamed them up, somebody set out to make life a little better.


And that though we smack into hurdles along our journey, we can find a way to get past them. If we set our minds to what interests us, and we go for it, who knows where it can lead? I guess I hope the book makes kids think about possibilities.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have more ideas for books than I have hours for writing them. So I have at least three serious projects I'm working on right now.


The most fun has me on the trail of Louisa May Alcott, so I have stacks and stacks of books about her on my desk as well as audiobooks in my phone for when I walk my dog. And I spent last night watching Katharine Hepburn's performance as Jo in 1933's Little Women. 


Tonight will be Winona Ryder's 1994 version, and on the weekend I'll rewatch my favorite, which is Saoirse Ronan's 2019 performance. I am a big Greta Gerwig fan, and I love how she honored Louisa's life in her telling.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope teachers discover Josephine and use her story in their classrooms when they're working on STEM lessons. Josephine's path makes STEM ideas so concrete in that she saw a problem—her dishes were chipping when washed by hand—and she invented something to solve it.


And the dishwasher isn't a satellite dish or something hard to wrap our mind around. It's there in our kitchen, and we use it every day. Something that makes chores easier? What better story to spark the minds of young inventors?


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Kate Hannigan.

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