Alison Woods - Interview Responses
As a former IT executive, what made you decide to write children’s books?
That’s an interesting question. I started out telling stories when I was 9 years old – and never thought I’d write a book. But my love for stories and storytelling has been around much longer than my interest in IT. I went to work for IBM for what I thought would be a couple years before heading to med school. I got hooked on making money and stayed in the field for 40+ years. Now it’s time for me to do what I love.
What types of stories did you tell when you were 9 years old? Who was your audience?
When I was 9, most of my stories were about my family and the things that happened in our home. I’d stop by a neighbor’s house on the way to the grocery store for my mother and entertain them with Scott family life. I’d have experiences at school and that would become a story (like writing 100 times, ‘The way I behave in school reflects my home training), Church, the playground, going shopping with my aunt at Marshall Field’s. There were stories everywhere – just in the ordinary things we did.
I’d like to give you two words and have you give me a story: octopus and ten!
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Kayla. She lived in Philadelphia. All she wanted for her birthday was a pet. She thought and she thought and decided that an octopus would be the perfect pet. So, on her birthday, to her delight, her mother said she would be getting an octopus. But when Kayla opened the box, there wasn’t a real octopus in it at all. Her mother made the octopus out of an old round pillow. And to Kayla’s shock it wasn’t even anatomically correct. What was wrong, you ask? Her mother had sewn on ten tentacles instead of eight. They had a good laugh. Her mom said, ‘Kay, you know I wasn’t going to have a live octopus in this house!’ Kayla hugged her mom and they lived happily ever after.
Where do you get the inspiration for your books?
When my oldest granddaughter was 3, I decided that I wanted to get her to know a character that would ‘live’ in several books. There wasn’t one series with an African American girl as the lead character that I could find. Kayla was and still is the inspiration for the KaylaKay book series.
What other stories will you tell about Kayla?
Kayla has come to visit with me every summer since she was a year old. So I have a really good inventory of stories. The next one: On Sundays, We Go to Church – relates our weekly schedule and then our Saturday ritual getting ready for church on Sunday. Others include: MeeMom and BeePop (Kayla’s views of her grandparents), BeePop Calls Me LadyBug (nicknames and their origins).
Will you write stories with other characters?
If you had asked me about other characters a couple years ago, I would’ve said no! But now we have twin grandsons so I’ve written two books about twins. I have also started a KareemJay series for boys. The first book in that series will be My Name is Kareem and the second one is Voices (how Kareem views the different voices that his grandmother asks him to use: inside, outside and church).
In addition to your own spontaneous bedtime stories, what books did you read to your children and grandchildren?
For my children, I read anything by Ezra Jack Keats. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, The Twins Strike Back by Valerie Flournoy, She Come Bringing Me That Little Baby Girl, by Eloise Greenfield.
For my grandchildren I still read the classics to the older ones but the younger ones have benefitted with more selection. We have read: I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont, One Love by Cedella Marley, I’ll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, Firebird by Misty Copeland, Jabari Jumps by Gai Cornwall.
I own so many children’s books. These are just a few that I’ve read to them.
What types of stories do younger children like to have read to them?
I think younger children (birth to 3) like simple stories with beautiful pictures. I also think they enjoy repetition – so with phrases or questions or actions.
How important is it for children of color to see themselves in the books that are read to them?
Intuitively, you know that this is important. But there are studies that support this. For example, Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report (7th edition) found that ‘Black and Hispanic families overall have the strongest views on the importance of and need for books with diversity.’
What’s the last book you read to one of your grandchildren?
My youngest grands are 4 year old twin boys. We read The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes.
What makes you excited about writing your books?
I love telling stories and that excitement for telling spills over to writing.