the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Mama's Belly, by Kate Hosford

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 @ 00:04 AM

Today we have a special delivery from Kate Hosford! Her new picture book, Mama’s Belly, illustrated by Abigail Halpin, is out now from Abrams!




Mama has a belly rising up like wave.

Inside is my sister, waiting to meet me.

As a curious little girl eagerly awaits the arrival of her sister, she has many questions about what her new sibling will be like. Will her sister have freckles? How will her family change? With lyrical language and unforgettable lush illustrations, Mama’s Belly is an honest and gentle exploration of the excitement and anticipation in welcoming a new family member, and assures young readers that Mama will always have enough love for everyone.


Welcome, Kate! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

In the winter of 2009, I did an amazing picture book semester with Uma Krishnaswami. I had found a picture of my son, Charlie, and myself when I was pregnant with his brother. I was looking down at Charlie with my hands on my belly. Charlie, who was two at the time, was facing me with his hands on his belly, and a look on his face that seemed to say, "I don’t know what we’ve gotten into here, but I may be in over my head." This gave me the idea to write a baby-on-the-way book from the point of view of a child who is focused on his mother’s pregnant belly.

However, when I started writing the story, I seemed to forget about that look on Charlie’s face, and instead wrote a story that was a relentlessly positive list of things that a boy would do with his new sibling. Uma suggested that perhaps the boy might be a little more conflicted about a sibling coming and about the ways in which pregnancy might change his mother. I then tried to remember what it had really been like to be pregnant and have a child waiting for a sibling. I revised the story so that the mom is sometimes tired and grumpy from backaches and her inability to see her own toes. I also had the protagonist express a variety of emotions about the impending birth. He might look forward to washing the baby’s belly, but also wonder if the baby would steal his blanket. At some point, I changed both the protagonist and the baby to females and the story became about a girl waiting for her sister to be born. 

Tell us how you sold this book. What was it like to find out?

I sold this book to Tamar Brazis at Abrams. I had probably been submitting stories to Tamar for over ten years at that point, and although she hadn’t bought anything before Mama’s Belly, she had always been kind and encouraging. After graduating from VCFA in 2011, I  continued working on the story. I knew there were already a lot of good baby-on-the-way books out there, but I hoped that I could make the voice of protagonist lyrical and unique.

I also wanted to give the story more of an emotional arc and come up with a really important question that the girl could ask her mother. I happened to run into a pregnant neighbor who had a five year-old daughter. When I asked her what her daughter wanted to know about the new baby, she said her daughter had asked, “Will there be enough love for both of us?” Once I heard that, I realized that this is the important question that every child needs answered when waiting for a sibling to be born. I tried to make this question, and the mother’s answer, the emotional climax of the book. When Tamar read the story, she liked the voice, and that emotional moment in particular.

I found out that Abrams was acquiring the story in 2015, on my birthday. I couldn’t have asked for a better present. The gestation period for this book was very long—nine years, from first draft to publication—but finding the right publisher, editor and illustrator was worth the wait.

What was it like watching the illustrations come together? 

When Tamar told me that Abigail Halpin had agreed to illustrate the book, I was really excited. First of all, Abigail had done the covers for Uma’s two middle grade books, The Grand Plan To Fix Everything and the The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, which was a lovely coincidence. She had also done a picture book called Finding Wild, which had a gorgeous palette and wonderful patterns and textures throughout the book.

The problem
Grand plan


finding wild


Her sketches took my breath away. Abigail created a complete world with this lovely bohemian family living in a log cabin beside a lake. She interwove nature throughout the book, so that things are growing and blooming on every page, which seemed to be the perfect setting for a book about pregnancy. The palette is beautiful and she has used so many rich textures and patterns. It is a visual feast for the reader.

Mama's belly

When the finished artwork came in, I cried from happiness. The world Abigial created reminded me of my upbringing in Vermont in the 1970s. I’m also really pleased with book trailer that video editor Nick Oleson created for me. I think the small touches of animation he added really make the trailer sing. It was also fun trying out different sound tracks and seeing how they change the mood of the book.

Watch the Mama’s Belly trailer here! 


How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I’ve been out of school for seven years now, so at this point, I’m almost used to the fact that often when I read about news in the children’s lit world, I am reading about faculty members or fellow students from school. However, when I really stop and think about how VCFA has shaped the world of children’s literature, it is absolutely amazing.

The VCFA community is an essential part of my life. I turn to classmates for support, critiques and advice, but most of all for friendship. I also feel that VCFAers know that normal is overrated, so it’s liberating and interesting to be around people who are proud of the ways in which they are eccentric, and people who understand what it’s like to be in the wonderful, crazy, unpredictable world of writing for children. 

What advice would you give a prospective VCFA student? 

1) Use your time at school to experiment with different genres, both in your reading and your writing. 

2) The more open you are to the influences around you at VCFA, the more interesting your journey there will become. 

3) Remember that your classmates are probably going to be your support sustem, your critique partners and your friends after graduating. Spend time really getting to know them.

4) Also know that it’s fine to take some time for yourself at residencies. These days are wonderful, and you will remember them forever, but they are also exhausting.  

5) VCFA is an incredibly supportive community. Bask in that support, and also provide it for others. 

Great advice! Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, Kate! Welcome to the world, Mama’s Belly!

Visit Kate Hosford online at






Topics: picture book, Kate Hosford, Abrams, 2018 release, Abigail Abigail Halpin


Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 @ 08:04 AM

Sound the fanfare! Today we toast Kate Hosford and her new picture book, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, out now from Carolrhoda books!

queencover.jpgActivities that the Queen most certainly does not do: strenuous kitty snuggling, vigorous soccer dribbling, spirited dancing, and making tea. Until one day, she grows dissatisfied with the tea her butler has prepared, and a culinary and cross-cultural hot air balloon adventure begins…

Welcome, Kate! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited the book?

I began this book during my picture book semester with Uma Krishnaswami. At first, the story was about a Queen who becomes humanized by going around the world and having tea parties with children. In the early drafts, the children were behaving deferentially and giving the Queen little gifts. Uma really encouraged me to turn colonialism on its ear and create child characters that are thoroughly unimpressed with royalty. Thank goodness she did. At that point the story became more meaningful, and also funnier. In subsequent drafts, I also tried to tune in to the Queen’s isolation; the real reason that her tea starts to taste horrible is because she is profoundly lonely.



Who was your favorite character to write and why?

My favorite character to write was the Queen. She is haughty, vulnerable, ridiculous, lonely, and hopefully in the end, lovable. I was lucky enough to work with my friend and collaborator Gabi Swiatkowska, who also illustrated my third picture book, Infinity and Me. The Queen goes through a whole myriad of emotions every time she visits a child in a new country and is asked to do something for the first time, like snuggle a kitty:

Image 2.jpegI liked making the Queen bewildered in the kitchen. It’s as if she is exploring a strange new planet, and she must proceed with caution. In Japan, all she dares to do is turn on the faucet. In India, she can only turn on the faucet and fill the kettle. By the time she gets to Turkey she can even boil water!

PastedGraphic-17.jpgDo you write in silence?

I’m very easily distracted. In fact, if I try to listen to music, I start typing those words into my own writing. I even find classical music distracting, and opt instead for silence, which you can actually find in New York, minus the occasional bird or airplane. I know some people need noise to write, which is fascinating to me.

What nugget of craft advice has been the most helpful to you?

I think one of the most helpful pieces of advice is to read my work out loud repeatedly. I think this is true regardless of the genre, but it’s absolutely essential for picture books, which will be read out loud almost exclusively once they are out in the world. The cadences and rhythms of the language are not obvious to the writer until one can hear them.

Great advice! What fun swag items do you wish you could make for this book?

I do have a few fun swag items already. Lerner always makes me beautiful bookmarks, and I also made personalized tea bags, and paper tea cups.


tea packets.jpgBut if I could have any swag items, I would probably have actual tea cups, and tea cozies with images from the book, as well as tea pots, and matching dishtowels. Of course, we’d have to do this for every culture the Queen visits: Japan, India, Turkey and England. Maybe we could have a variety tea pack with tea bags from each of these cultures. Because the Queen and her butler James travel around the world in a hot air balloon, it might be nice to have hot air balloon ornaments, with the name of the book on them…it’s fun to dream about swag.

I’d also like to mention two other book-related items that make me very happy:

A curriculum, created by Blue Slip Media:

And a book trailer by BoTra Productions:

book launch.jpgWho were your advisors at VCFA?

Four of the most wonderful teachers ever: Uma Krishnaswami, Sarah Ellis, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Julie Larios. I wish school could have lasted four years!

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I think hardly a day goes by when I am not in touch with one of my classmates. I know that they are there for encouragement, advice, inspiration, feedback, and reality checks. I love hearing about their lives, reading their work and doing whatever I can to support them. Several of them have become some of my closest friends. VCFA grads are not just an important part of my writing life, they are an important part of my life, period.

katehosford.jpgThanks for stopping by, Kate! We're ready for our tea party! Welcome to the world, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea.

Kate Hosford is a picture book author and poet who graduated with the Bat Poets in Winter 2011. Visit her online at

Topics: Carolrhoda Books, picture book, Lerner Publishing Group, Lerner, 2017 release, Kate Hosford, Gabi Swiatkowska

Kate Hosford and Feeding the Flying Fanellis!

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Oct 02, 2015 @ 13:10 PM

We're delighted to welcome Kate Hosford to the LaunchPad to celebrate the release of her new book Feeding the Flying Fanellis and Other Poems from a Circus Chef! Kate graduated from VCFA in January 2011 and is a member of the Bat Poets. You can find her online at her website and on Facebook and Twitter.  

23080199What do you feed a trapeze family to keep them up in the air? A fire eater with a penchant for hot sauce? Or a lion with a gourmet palate? How do you satisfy a sweet-toothed human cannonball who has outgrown his cannon? Find out what keeps these performers juggling, balancing and entertaining—meals prepared by their tireless chef! Enjoy a front row seat for this whimsical look at circus life that just might make you hungry.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I’m not sure it was so much a spark as a slow burn. As a former gymnast and dancer, I have always been interested in the circus. My family has also been connected with the Vermont-based Circus Smirkus, almost since its inception. This award-winning youth circus attracts top performers from all of the country and internationally. In 1989, my father helped organize a circus exchange between Circus Smirkus and a circus troupe from Tbilisi, Georgia, which at that time was part of the Soviet Union. I was able to see the Georgian and American kids perform in Vermont, which was an unforgettable experience. Since then, I have seen Circus Smirkus perform many times over the years, and have attended other circuses as well, such as the Big Apple Circus, and Cirque de Soleil.


On the other hand, my interest in chefs probably resulted from the fact that I developed food intolerances in my thirties and was forced to live on a restricted diet. Food suddenly became a complicated part of my life, and I fantasized about a chef who would cook everything I needed, leaving me free to think about other things. Around the time the food intolerances developed, I wrote my first picture book story called The Little Chef, and then a second called Rooftop Circus. Neither of those projects ever went anywhere, and it wasn’t until years later at VCFA that it occurred to me to combine the two topics. 


During my first semester at VCFA, I decided to turn my little chef into a circus chef. I began reading articles about actual circus chefs, including this one about the Ringling Brothers circus chef Michael Vaughn:


These lines got me thinking:


"He's fielded some odd requests in his time, from Russian crew members who put mayonnaise on every dish, to Trinidadian stilt-walkers who live off ketchup. Under these conditions, a cook has to be able to handle anything, even if that means seeing a finely cooked filet mignon drowned in store-bought condiments.


I loved the idea of a chef catering to the unusual requirement circus performers might make, both in terms of their cultural backgrounds and their job requirements. I did the picture book program first semester with Uma Krishnaswami, where I attempted to write a fictional picture book about a circus chef, and even briefly considered writing a non-fiction picture book about circus chefs. However, I still couldn’t come up with anything that worked. I then put the project aside and kind of forgot about it. 


Third semester, I was writing my critical thesis and frantically trying to come up with a workshop submission. I decided to go back to the circus chef idea, but this time try it as a series of poems from the chef’s point of view. Once I chose this format, the project came together fairly quickly. I had a fantastic time thinking about circus personalities and the strange problems that the chef might have to overcome in order to feed them. Margaret Bechard and the other classmates who critiqued the piece in workshop were really encouraging. I continued to worked on these poems with Julie Larios fourth semester, which was a blast. I didn’t ever want the semester to end! I sold the poems to Carolrhoda Books two years later.


One of the best parts about promoting this book has been collaborating with Circus Smirkus. I reached out to them to see if their performers could tell me about the favorite dishes their circus chef cooks for them. The result was this video which has become my book trailer:


I ended up making these poems part of my creative thesis and graduate reading. I will never forget all of the supportive smiling faces in the audience that night.

This was not an easy project to sell, and it was really the support of the VCFA community that give me the courage to not give up on these poems. I’m also very grateful to the NECI chefs who cooked special meals for me through five residencies. Without them, I couldn’t have completed the program. 

What was the most difficult element to cut /change during the revision process?

 I think the unicyclist who can’t stop long enough to eat was cut. Rob Mermin, the founder of Circus Smirkus, also convinced me to change my circus clown from a buffoon to a more refined character. That poem is now about a genteel clown who is conflicted about throwing pies.


But for the most part, my revision challenges were more about form than content.

Fourth semester with Julie, I played around with using different poetic forms, but always came back to using the rhymed couplets, which we both felt worked well. After I sold the collection to Carolrhoda, they asked me to play around some more with other poetic forms, and I wrote lots of pantoums, double dactyls, and triolets. In the final collection, about two thirds of the poems are still rhymed couplets. I do have some poems with varied rhyme schemes, but I left out the other forms mentioned above, since they didn’t seem quite right for this collection. The artwork also went through several rounds of revisions, and I think that Cosei Kawa’s dreamy and surrealistic illustrations provide a nice contrast to the practical concerns of the chef.

Do you write in silence?

I write in complete silence. Even classical music is too distracting to me. My mind flits around a lot, which is sometimes good for thinking up new ideas, but not good for actual writing. I also try to read everything out loud as often as I can, so music doesn’t work for that either. I’m completely baffled when I see people writing in cafes where music is playing. How do they do it? The few times I’ve had to do that, I find myself typing snippets from the songs I hear into my stories! When I worked as an illustrator, I was able to listen to NPR a lot and was much better informed about world events as a result. 


How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?


I can’t really imagine what my writing community would be like without VCFA since about ninety percent of my network is comprised from grads and faculty members. I am constantly inspired by all of you, both as writers and as smart, complex and quirky people. As one of my VCFA friends says, “Normal is overrated.”


What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Come with an open heart, and a willingness to be changed both by classmates, faculty members, and perhaps even by Vermont itself. There cannot be a more beautiful setting for a writing program. Tamara Ellis Smith changed my life when I met her at a picnic and she told me about VCFA. Thank you, Tam. I hope I can do the same for other people who are considering the school.

It's so exciting to see a great new poetry book for kids on the shelves-- especially one as fun as Feeding the Flying Fanellis! Thanks for telling us all about it, Kate.

Feeding the Flying Fanellis and Other Poems from a Circus Chef! was published by Carolrhoda Books. You can learn more about this book-- and Kate's other great work on her website




Topics: Carolrhoda Books, 2015 release, poetry, Kate Hosford

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