Jackie Katz writes about what she knows. Much like the namesake character in her book, she owns a lot of hats – 243 according to her latest count. Katz is one half of the team that brought us the children’s book, Mrs. Katz and Her Hats. Nancy Brandley co-wrote and illustrated the rich watercolor images that accompany the tale of a sprinkle-covered donut hat learning a few valuable life lessons. It’s both authors’ first published book.
“Nancy and I have been good friends forever,” explains Katz. “When I told her I wanted to write a children’s book, she said ‘Let’s do it!’ and that’s how it all began.”
The book is based on Katz’s experience telling stories to children for more than 35 years, starting as an elementary school librarian outside Murrieta, California. As she put it, “I wear crazy hats while reading books to the children.” When she moved to Rhode Island, her Thursday night story hour, Mrs. Katz and Her Hats, quickly became a family favorite at the Rogers Free Library in Bristol.
For more than a year, Katz and Brandley worked on the book, riffing off each other easily since, as Katz explains, “Our brains are very similar.” They wrote and rewrote it, adding vignettes and moving bits around.
Then Brandley’s artistic know-how took over. Having taught visual arts at Portsmouth High School for more than 22 years, she knows her way with a paintbrush. It took Brandley another year to create the watercolor-and-ink illustrations. She also hand-lettered the entire book – no fonts were used in the writing of Mrs. Katz and Her Hats.
Once they had the published book in their hands, the duo moved into sales and marketing mode. They sold it at street fairs, reached out to local bookstores to carry it, and held a launch event at the library. The book was a big hit almost immediately with Katz’s storytelling fans and Brandley’s network of art students and their families.
Teachers also love the book, ordering copies for entire preschool classrooms. “It has truly been a labor of love,” says Katz. “Working with Nancy has been a blast. Spending time together has been such a great way to enjoy our friendship.” They both loved the experience so much that there is already talk of a second book. Brandley’s idea is to turn Mrs. Katz and Her Hats into an illustrated activity book that encourages kids to explore their talents in the visual arts by drawing and painting.
And there are more stories to tell – like the tale of Katz’s husband, Steve, who built a climate-controlled room in their home to store all of her hats.
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