Katey Howes is an award-winning picture book author. She’s passionate about raising kids who love to read, and about helping kids recognize that they are makers, inventors, and creators! A former physical therapist, Katey is fascinated by physics and biology, reads everything from classic children lit to modern neuroscience.
When not writing for children, Katey contributes to websites such as Nerdy BookClub, KidLit411, STEAM-powered Family, and Imagination Soup. She has presented at NCTE and several nErDcamps and taught picture book writing and revision at the SCBWI NJ Fall Craft Weekend. You can hear Katey interviewed on podcasts such as Reading with Your Kids, Lu and Bean Read, and All the Wonders.
Katey lives in Bucks County with her husband, three daughters, and a pup named Samwise Gamgee. She and her family enjoy making everything from cupcakes to castles to catapults, exploring their wooded property, and traveling to new and exciting places.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
When I visit schools, I show students a book I made in third grade for a class project, called “The History of My Life (So Far.)” In it, I wrote that when I grew up, I wanted to be either a teacher, a police officer, or the interior designer for the first moon hotel. I haven’t done any of those - but I suppose they are all still possibilities! Instead, I’ve had a long string of jobs - ice cream scooper, camp counselor, security guard, physical therapist, case manager, and now, of course, author!
When I look back, it’s clear that I’ve always loved reading and writing - I have notebooks full of poems and stories and shelves full of favorite books from every time of my life. But I never thought of it as a career option - just as something I did for me.
When my three kids were all under 5 years old, I decided to take a break from work and stay home with them for a while. I had been working as a physical therapist in a brain injury rehab center, and though I loved the work, it was physically and emotionally draining. Little did I know that being a full-time mom was pretty draining, too! I felt like all my time and energy belonged to other people (mostly very small ones) and I decided to find one goal to pursue, just for me, that fit into the downtimes and quiet moments of parenthood. That one goal - publish a children’s book!
It took a few years - and a lot of learning and growing - but my first picture book was finally released in 2017. Since then, I’ve been focused on continuing my writing journey and sharing my love of stories with the world.
Tell us about the story “Be A Maker” and how you came up with the idea.
The book Be A Maker started with a moment of linguistic curiosity. I was thinking about how one word can mean a lot of different things. I started listing different ways we use the word “make” in English. Like, you can make a sandwich, you can make a mistake or make someone laugh…
In time, the list started to feel like a poem. I started another list of words that rhyme with “make.” And then one morning I wrote down the couplet that opens the book: “Ask yourself this question in the morning when you wake, in a world of possibilities, today, what will you make?”
Why did you end the story with the question “Are you proud of what you made?”
I know that everyone has choices to make every day. We only have so much energy, so many resources, so much time. Sometimes, it can be hard to decide how to use those things. Sometimes, we make decisions based on what other people expect of us, or what gets us the most attention, or what is easiest!
There are a lot of factors that can motivate or inhibit us - but they don’t all point us in the best direction. I really believe that if you look back on your day and ask yourself if you are proud of the choices you made, of how you used your resources, it can inform what you do and what you make the next day; it can help you grow into your best self; it can help you understand your unique way to be happy, be helpful, and make the world a better place.
Tell us about the story “Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe”.
When my kids were little, they didn’t see a lot of positive female role models in popular culture and books who loved and excelled at science. I wanted to help change that! Magnolia Mudd is a girl who likes nuts and bolts better than ribbons and bows - and she wants to bring that part of her personality to everything she does. When her inventing buddy and favorite grown-up, Uncle Jamie, decided to get married, Magnolia wants to find a way to be part of the wedding that reflects her strengths and passions. Her family encourages and supports her, and together with the very fancy bride-to-be, Magnolia finally invents a bouquet launcher - a gadget that brings the two seemingly different female characters together and brings a love of science and engineering to a wonderful family celebration.
What is the role of the main character’s failures in the story?
I think it’s important for kids - and grown-ups - to recognize that mistakes and failures are a vital part of every creative process. Whether you are writing a book, building a rocket, or learning a dance, you won’t get everything right the first time. Maybe not even the fourth time. Or the four-hundredth. But that’s OK! Artists, inventors, scientists, and innovators of all types try things out, see how and why they go wrong and try again. In the story, the failures help build tension - but they also demonstrate a growth mindset. And in the end, when Magnolia works together with another character to solve her problem, we also see the value of teamwork.
The framing of the story is about innovation and creativity, but at the heart of it, it’s about relationships. I want every kid to recognize that they can bring themself - their strengths, their interests, their passions, and quirks - to every situation. The people who care about you - whether they be your family, friends, teachers, or classmates - will support you being YOU. And the world is so much more interesting when we put our spin on everything we do!
Can you share a mistake you made and what you learned from it?
I am not ashamed to say that I’ve made lots of mistakes in my life - sometimes the same one over and over - and learned from most of them. Early on in my writing career, I sent stories to agents and publishers long before they were ready. I didn’t know enough about the industry, the expectations, or the standards.
I made the mistake of believing my writing was good enough - without taking the time to ask for feedback from other writers. I got many rejections and wanted to give up. But I looked at those mistakes and realized that I had to slow down, check my ego, and take the time to learn from more experienced people who were willing to share their expertise. I had to put my writing through a more critical lens before trying to get it published. I learned so much from these mistakes that helped guide me on the path to publication.