Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Q&A with Katie Mazeika




Katie Mazeika is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Beulah Has a Hunch!: Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry. She also wrote and illustrated the picture book Annette Feels Free. She lives in Ohio.


Q: What inspired you to create a children’s picture book about inventor Beulah Louise Henry (1887-1973)?


A: The initial inspiration was that she held so many patents, yet I’d never heard of her. Then I started my research. One of things that I found so compelling about Beulah is that she thrived in the male-dominated manufacturing world while still embracing her ladylike upbringing.


Q: How unusual was it for a woman of Beulah’s era to hold so many patents, and how well-known was she in her day?


A: Women generally didn’t hold patents. Even if they invented and patented something, the patent was given to the husband, not the female inventor. So, she was very unusual, and very well known. She was nicknamed “Lady Edison” and was often featured in women’s magazines.


One of her inventions, a stuffed animal named “Kitty Koo,” became a costumed character that appeared in parades with Beulah. At one point the Kitty Koo character even had a traveling kids theater show. Beulah was very well known in her time.

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


A: How limited Beulah’s education was. I was very fortunate to find an online source that had yearbooks from the early 1900s. I knew where Beulah went to school so finding the yearbooks from her time there was easy.


What shocked me was what was offered by the school. Hygiene and household first aid was the only science offered. Math only covered the basics needed to run a household.


After learning this I was even more in awe of Beulah’s accomplishments and how her unique mind must have worked.


Q: How would you compare Beulah with the subject of your previous children's picture book biography, swimmer Annette Kellerman?


A: Beulah and Annette both possessed the same willpower and passion. But Annette was more willing to speak out loudly when something stood in her way, and she did.


Beulah was much demurer, leaning into her upbringing and following proper etiquette. She ruffled less feathers but still accomplished quite a bit.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on another picture book with S&S/Beach Lane Books, Maybe, Just Ask Me. It’s a semi-autobiographical picture book about a little girl wearing a scarf and eyepatch who starts at a new school and faces curious stares and over-the-top speculations about her missing eye and hair; her frustration grows until she finds the courage to tell the other kids that maybe it's better to just ask her.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I will be in Columbus, Ohio, at NCTE [National Council of Teachers of English] in November. I am presenting on two panels, discussing disability and neurodivergent representation in children’s books.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Katie Mazeika.

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