Children's Book Series Takes Local Creators on Magical Ride
Co-writer Ginny Hornby of Montgomery and artist Christine Winscott of North Aurora are two of the team behind Kathryn the Grape, a series of books for young readers. And they're looking for a dozen kids to appear in the next book.
Ginny Hornby has a magic wand.
It’s not one of those straightforward Harry Potter wands. Oh no. Hornby’s wand is purple, with a circular dreamcatcher at one end, and red, yellow and green beads suspended in it. Hornby keeps it upstairs in her home office, but she’ll sometimes take it out to show children—only children who believe in magic, however.
How did this Montgomery mother, marketing professional and freelance writer end up with such a thing? It’s quite the tale, and it involves creative people in two states, a one-eyed green monster that lives under the bed, and a talking butterfly.
It’s the story of Kathryn the Grape, a series of children’s books co-written by Hornby and illustrated by Christine Winscott of North Aurora. It’s a project that has changed the lives of everyone involved, and one that seemed to come together just like…
Well, just like magic.
And now Hornby and her co-creators want you to be a part of that magic, with a contest that will see 12 fans appear in a new Kathryn the Grape book. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start where all good stories start: the beginning.
A 2,000-mile connection
Kathryn the Grape was created by San Diego-based writer Kathryn Cloward in 1999. But it didn’t take shape until her chance encounter with Hornby, who was working for a media company owned by her brother-in-law in Illinois. Hornby, who grew up in St. Charles, helped Cloward develop content for her company’s website. (The company is NaturalKidz.com, and they sell earth-friendly products for children.)
And sometime during the process, she said, Cloward asked her to take a look at an idea she had for a children’s book.
“At the time, it had a different title, the characters were different, it was far from its finished state,” Hornby said.
She sent some suggestions back to Cloward. It wasn’t long before she got a revised version to look over, and Hornby said things went on like that for three or four months, Cloward sending ideas and Hornby sending her own back. And then, out of the blue, Cloward asked if Hornby knew anyone who could illustrate it.
As it turned out, she did. Christine Winscott, Hornby’s sister-in-law, owns her own graphic design studio. She and Hornby refer to each other as best friends, and often finish each other’s sentences.
Hornby suggested Winscott, and after what the artist describes as a “magnetic” conversation with Cloward, she was on board.
“I’ve always wanted to do a children’s book,” Winscott said. “And this was like, wow, someone else did all the writing? OK!”
Jumping right in
It was the idea behind the books that captured Winscott’s imagination. Kathryn the Grape is named after Cloward’s childhood nickname, given to her because she wore purple to school all the time. In the book, young Kathryn has a magical mentor, a talking butterfly named Maggie, who is based on Cloward’s grandmother.
Maggie gives Kathryn a magic wand, but tells her it can only be used for good. Her confidence inspired, Kathryn spends the rest of the book trying out new things— she makes new friends at a new school, and plays softball, crediting her magic wand with helping her through it.
At the book’s end, she learns that the magic was in her all along. Winscott, a mother of three, said that’s an important message for kids to learn.
And just like their main character, the team behind Kathryn the Grape leapt into this new venture with a little faith in magic. The books are independently published by Cloward's company, Kandon Publishing.
Winscott not only illustrated the book, she also designed the covers and page layouts. Hornby worked behind the scenes—the first book was co-written by Cloward's fellow Californian, Jody Duhamel.
The team tried traditional publishing, Hornby said, but that didn’t work out. So they decided to find a printing house, and just do it themselves.
The book itself is a glossy hardcover with top-notch production values, and the team has created several marketing tools to go along with it, including coloring books and stickers of the most popular characters.
The most popular, Winscott said, is Lagicam, that one-eyed monster who lives under Kathryn’s bed. His name is the word “magical” backwards, and he’ll have a bigger role in future volumes, Winscott said.
Here’s where you come in
Future volumes? Oh yes. The second book, “Kathryn the Grape’s Colorful Adventure,” is done, and will be out by the summer. And the third is in production now, which is where that contest comes in.
The Kathryn the Grape team is looking for a dozen kids to appear in the third volume, which will see Kathryn’s classmates presenting collages about their lives. Fans of the books can create their own collages, and send photos of themselves, and Winscott will draw characters inspired by them into the book.
You can download an entry form at the Kathryn the Grape website, www.kathrynthegrape.com.
In the meantime, the Kathryn the Grape team is promoting their first book, both on the west coast and in the Midwest. (Hornby and Winscott have still only met Cloward once, at a convention in California.)
They do appearances at elementary schools, and signings at local Barnes and Noble stores—Hornby and Winscott will be at the Geneva Commons store in Geneva on April 18 at 10:30 a.m.
And whenever they do, they bring that magic wand—designed and built by Winscott—with them. The kids, they say, love it.
The first book's sales keep growing each month, Hornby said. But it’s the emails that come in from grateful parents that truly make this an experience they won’t forget, she said.
Hornby and Winscott both said they never expected the journey Kathryn the Grape has taken them on. And with no end in sight, they’re looking forward to wherever this path leads. Two years ago, Hornby and Winscott had never heard of Kathryn the Grape, and now she’s taking them new places all the time, opening up new wonders.
It’s just like… well, you know.
You can order Kathryn the Grape books online from dealers like Amazon, or ask for it at local Barnes and Noble stores. It's also available for the Nook and the Kindle, and the iPad version is coming soon. The books are also at both branches of the Oswego Public Library. You can also keep up with the creators on Facebook.