March is National Women’s History Month—a month that highlights women and their achievements. In lieu of this month, City of Light Publishing shines a light on Kite to Freedom author Kathleen Dinan and illustrator Iris Kirkwood. In email interviews, Kathleen and Iris share their inspirations for their work and in life. Read along below to get to know our amazing women!
1. What inspired you to write this story? Did it grow as a seed, or were you struck with inspiration one day?
I was inspired to write this story by my father. Years ago, he told me about a kite flying contest that was held in Niagara Falls in the 1800s and how it helped create the first international bridge between the United States and Canada. At the time when he told me about this little known piece of history, I was busy raising my children and working. Upon relocating to Buffalo, I had some free time and I decided to attempt to write this book. I fully credit my father for planting in me the seed of the idea for this book Kite to Freedom.
2. You recently received a standing ovation from a classroom of third graders. How did that make you feel?
I did receive a standing ovation for my book from a third grade class. It literally brought tears of happiness to my eyes!
3. What do you hope for children to learn from your book?
I hope that children will enjoy learning a number of things from my book. I believe that Kite to Freedom provides an engaging fictionalized historical perspective of how the Underground Railroad functioned. My book brings to life how Harriet Tubman used the Niagara Falls International Bridge to help slaves escape to Canada in order to live as free people. Kite to Freedom also illustrates how the lives of slaves, free African Americans, and Caucasians differed in the mid-1800s. It also incorporates elements of STEM as it discusses the process of building a suspension bridge. My favorite theme of the book is the lesson that something great can grow from something very small.
4. Who are some of the women figures that inspired you to write this story?
My inspiration to become an author came from my childhood hero, Louisa May Alcott. I loved her books! As a child I used to emulate her by sitting in a tree, eating apples and writing, just like Louisa did! In terms of a strong female, one which I was thrilled to be able to include in Kite to Freedom, my answer would be Harriet Tubman. She is an inspiring and strong historical figure who risked her life to help others.
5. Who are some of the women figures that inspired you to live out your dreams?
There is a long list of women that I admire for achieving their dreams. I admire women who worked hard and overcame obstacles to become what they wanted to be, rather than allowing society to dictate what they could do. My mother was an inspiration to me. In the 1950s she received an Associates Degree in Chemistry. Science was not a common career choice for women at that time! My mom also went on to earn a RN degree in nursing the same year I graduated from college. My mom was a tiny, quiet, and competent woman who worked hard to achieve her dreams. As an attorney, I would say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a very inspirational person to me. She fought hard to even be recognized as a lawyer and was able to rise through the predominantly male legal system to become a Supreme Court Justice.
6. Do you have advice for young women/women that you want to share?
My advice to all people would be to never give up on your dreams! Work hard and take small manageable steps towards your dreams. Take those steps one-by-one until you achieve your goal! I had two childhood dreams. One was to become an author and the other was to own a horse. This past year I have achieved both of those dreams. It wasn’t easy, but through hard work and by taking one step at a time, I overcame any obstacles to those dreams.
- What was your creative process for making illustrations for Kite to Freedom?
It was important to me to have live models to use for the creation of the characters, Holman and Katie. Having models would allow me to realistically create the emotional responses the story required.
I contacted the Performing & Visual Art School to help me find two student volunteers to use as models. After obtaining their parents’ consent, I went to the school and photographed a fifteen-year-old white male and an eleven-year-old African American female. After obtaining their photographs and the chapters waiting to be illustrated, I began drawing.
2. How did you come to be an illustrator?
I am a visual artist. Illustrating is just another genre of visual art in my opinion, like abstract art or figurative painting or sculpture. Each artistic area has criteria, a defined perimeter of materials, subjects, and how they are handled. As the artist, I get to choose what I can create each day.
3. Who are some of the women figures you’ve looked up to for illustrating?
I admire many artists but for the last fifteen years, I have followed the work of Yuko Shimizu. I love her use of color and line. I am also impressed by the imagery she creates for her clients’ needs.
4. Who are some of the women figures that have inspired you in your life?
The most important woman who inspired me was my mother Ruth Johnson. She taught to never give up and to not be afraid; especially to not be afraid to stand alone if you believe you are right. Don’t go along to get along.
5. Do you have a favorite illustration that you’ve done for Kite to Freedom?
Oh yes, my favorite illustration is in the first chapter where Katie is coming into the alley and Holman is hiding from her.
6. What do you hope children will learn from Kite to Freedom?
That the simplest thing is never just simple…a kite contest leading to life changing events like freedom of the unknown number of slaves! Who could have foreseen that?
7. Do you have any advice for young women/women you want to share?
It’s easy to give advice, but not always easy to know you need it. But wherever you are in life, you don’t have to stay if it causes you pain. You can leave it behind and move on.
****Kite to Freedom comes out March 25, 2021. Click here to preorder your copy!