Author Spotlight: Caroline Kusin Pritchard
August 27, 2021
We are pleased to feature picture book author Caroline Kusin Pritchard and her debut picture book, GITTY AND KVETCH, illustrated by Ariel Landy (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), coming out on Aug. 31. Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Do you remember those journals from elementary schools with miniature locks and keys? The ones with “KEEP OUT!” and “DO NOT ENTER” doodled across the front? That was the kind of energy I always brought to my writing. It was something I poured myself into, but kept in deep, dark corners where no one else could find it. I developed a belief early on that being a capital-W “Writer” was off the table, so I pursued my passion for education instead. I worked as a classroom teacher, policy analyst and marketer for an EdTech nonprofit.
But when I was on maternity leave with my second kid, a number of personal events shook my foundation. Those experiences finally motivated me to pursue publishing outright. I spent my time at the library reading hundreds (thousands?) of picture books, took every free online class available, taught creative writing courses to middle schoolers, swapped manuscripts with anyone willing to partner up, and held myself accountable to actually putting stories on the page.
I still pinch myself for getting to be a part of this bold, loving community. The children’s book creators I’ve come to know embody the power of storytelling. Their voices expose the racist, sexist, heteronormative, ableist (and beyond) powers that have shaped what stories show up on our bookshelves for far too long. I’m incredibly grateful to be in community with and learn from these thought leaders every day.
Congrats on your debut picture book, Gitty and Kvetch! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Thank you! I consumed every picture book I could get my hands on growing up, but my hands-down favorite was Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Beyond the clever plot and masterful illustrations, it was one of the only books where I saw Jewish people centered. If the story of a middle-aged man fighting a pack of goblins in order to save Hanukkah made me feel seen, I can’t even imagine what it would have felt like to see a contemporary kid going about relatable problems.
I think there was a clear subconscious desire for increased Jewish representation that motivated Gitty and Kvetch in particular. And not just representation tied to holidays or food, but just-so-happens content related to Jewish ideas, humor and values. Gitty and Kvetch as characters flowed right out of me because I knew them so well. Gitty’s boundless optimism, Kvetch’s cautious realism... They’re amalgamations of the qualities I love about my own family and upbringing. And they admittedly represent the things that drive me meshuge, too!
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I was an expert at churning out unsolicited queries and became very comfortable with the sound of crickets in return. In a life-altering act of love, my best childhood friend mentioned that her upstairs neighbor did something in children’s publishing and “why don’t I just reach out.” Her one email to Justin Chanda asking advice for a friend resulted in his generous offer to read a manuscript, which resulted in a revise and resubmit request, which resulted in an offer, which resulted in connecting with my dream agent, which resulted in my first publishing contract with Atheneum.
I’m acutely aware of how much luck and privilege went into that chance encounter. It’s a constant reminder of how this conspiracy of love, in the words of Cory Booker, sends out ripples that can change everything. It took the generosity of countless souls for me to experience this opportunity— from the the librarian who curated stacks of mentor texts on my behalf, to the mentor who took time to line edit my stories, to the family who never let me belittle my own dreams and on and on. I’m on the receiving end of an immense gift that I only hope I can pay forward in a meaningful way.
What projects are you working on now?
According to the brainstorming doc on my phone, I’m working on roughly ~387 projects at the moment. If you’ve ever seen me cackle into thin air and then furiously peck away on my phone, now you know why. As of today, I’m actively working on a chapter book I can’t quite crack, as well as a picture book. I realize now that both stories center challah, chutzpah and chatty little siblings… this is certainly the case of art imitating life! I also have two unannounced projects that I’m in the process of revising with my editor.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?
Pay attention. Listen to how kids talk with each other when adults aren’t controlling their play. Watch how their faces react when a joke finally clicks. Remember what it felt like when your brother broke your favorite toy or when your older sister gave you a hug when you least expected it. Pay attention!!!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I have a gnarly case of trypophobia. If I see certain patterns, especially ones with clusters of holes, I lose my cool (and I have a very limited sense of cool to begin with).
Where can people find you online?
I’m most active on Instagram @carolinepritchardwrites, but also lurk on Twitter @carolinepritch.
Caroline grew up as the youngest of four children in Dallas, TX and spent her childhood sneaking extra helpings of noodle kugel from her bubbe’s kitchen. She moved to California for college and has spent her career working across education, everything from teaching brilliant third graders to helping develop federal policy. Caroline is currently an MFA Candidate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Caroline lives in Stanford, CA with her husband (Tavita), three kiddos (Afi, Manu and Leone) and their 120-lb dog (Misha). She is the author of Gitty and Kvetch (August 31, 2021) and is excited to share about more upcoming projects soon.
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