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!Activities 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:
I 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!
Do 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.
But 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: http://khosford.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/How-the-Queen-Found-the-Perfect-Cup-of-Tea-Curriculum-Guide.pdf
And a book trailer by BoTra Productions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XMkNDXtl5A
Who 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.
Thanks 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 Khosford.com.