Kathie Kelleher: picturebook author/illustrator

On May 24th, after going to a magical book launch party on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston,  I did a post about the book Willow’s Walkabout: A Children’s Guide to Boston by Sheila S. Cunningham and illustrated by Kathie Kelleher. Kathie, who is an endlessly fascinating and talented friend and neighbor, agreed to the following interview.

Q: You and Sheila started off your promotion of Willow’s Walkabout: A Children’s Guide to Boston in a spectacular way with the first launch party. It was such a beautiful venue, crowded with so many people clamoring to have a signed copy of their own, and the cookies and chocolates were a plus. There was even a human-scale Willow there to greet people. Nice, mate! Do you or Sheila have other cool promotional ideas percolating?

A: Yes, the book launch was something else!  Sheila has an extraordinary talent for tending to every detail. She deserves major kudos for selecting such an elegant venue and arranging all the special touches like the cookies, chocolates and best of all–bringing Willow along.

As far as future promotional events, we will be signing books at Patriot’s Place on July 10th and the next day, at Wheaton College. There will also be a book signing at the Stoneham Zoo on July 29th, which is extra special. The book is based on the true story of a wily wallaby that escaped and then returned to the Stone Zoo back in the 1990’s, so we’re returning to the scene of the crime! Because Willow’s Walkabout takes the reader to so many of Boston’s beloved landmarks, I’m sure Sheila and I will be promoting the book at many of those same locations. Stay tuned!

Q: Kathie, I know that you have been illustrating for children’s publishing for some time. How many books have you put your creativity towards and how many has Sheila written?

A: Hmm… I’d say I’ve illustrated a dozen or so trade books. My focus has been primarily in the field of educational illustration where I’ve contributed to so many reading, science and math books it’s hard to keep track of them all!  Currently my goal is illustrating and writing children’s picture books. The first book that I authored is coming in July of this year. It’s titled The Night Before Christmas, Deep Under the Sea and published by Holiday House.

This (Willow’s Walkabout) is the first book that Sheila has written but I envision her creating many more. When not writing, Sheila’s an accomplished lawyer.   

Q: How did you hook up with Bunker Hill to do this project?

A: Bunker Hill contacted my agent, Bernadette Szost of Portfolio Solutions and Bernadette thought of me. Lucky me!

Q: There is considerable detail in your illustrations. Did you go to many of the places you show in the pictures? What other kinds of research did you need to do for the sake of accuracy?

A: I knew from the start that the main research for the book would need to be done on location.

It was a blast going into Boston to take the many reference shots and it became my own personal “walkabout”. We tend to take our stomping grounds for granted but this opportunity enabled me to see Boston with fresh eyes. One of the best experiences was going to the top of the Prudential building, where one has a 360° view of the city. The Red Sox were in town, so I got to watch a bit of the game!

Q: Did a real wallaby pose for you as you were doing your research? Were you tempted to fly to Australia to draw Willow’s relatives?

A: I wish! That’s the one bit of research I needed to do online. Growing up, there was a story told about a great-great grandfather that had joined the merchant marines and sailed away from Australia at the age of 15. Turns out he ran away from Scotland but I always liked the thought of having Aussie blood. So to answer your question about wanting to go to Australia–heck yes!

Q: Were there any surprises in the course of your work on this book that you would like to share?

A: This book project moved along pretty smoothly. The one thing that did throw me off was on the first day of painting the finished art. We had just had an early snowstorm and most of the leaves were still on the trees. This proved to be too much weight to bear for many of them and trees were falling down all over, taking power lines along with them.

Due to the subsequent blackout, I had to move my painting operation out on to the porch and wear fingerless mitts in order to paint. The sun provided excellent lighting and I was able to paint the sky area on every page.

Q:  That’s quite a story! What other book projects do you or Sheila have up your sleeve (or in your pouch)?

A: I know that Willow is a curious little creature, so I personally hope she hops to other destinations. Paris would be my top choice. Sheila–are you listening?

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