In the darkest moments, sometimes it is the smallest and simplest things that bring comfort. When a young boy in Anne Laurel Carter's moving picture book What the Kite Saw (Groundwood Books, illustrations by Akin Duzakin) watches his father and brother taken away by soldiers, his world is rocked.
Missing them, confined to the house with his remaining family, hurt, and confused, he finds solace by climbing to his rooftop and flying a kite. As it soars above the tanks and searchlights, he is able to look up, away from a world that is failing him.
A story of resilience and imagination blooming under the most impossible of conditions, Carter's complex and powerful story is notable for both how real it feels and how it deftly balances hope against despair. Inspired by children she met during a visit to the West Bank nearly 20 years ago, the boy shines as a beacon in painfully believable circumstances.
We're excited to welcome Anne to Open Book to talk about What the Kite Saw and how she worked with award-winning artist Akin Duzakin to create the boy's story, as part of our Kids Club interview series.
She tells us about how she credits Duzakin's "sensitivity and visual story-telling skill" as making a huge difference to the book, how a point of view shift during the writing process made the book come alive, and the one important thing she wishes people knew about writing for young readers.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
Anne Laurel Carter:
What the Kite Saw was inspired by children I met while visiting the West Bank in 2003. They’d flown kites from their rooftops in the dark after their town was occupied by soldiers and a curfew imposed. The image of them doing that haunted me for 13 years. One afternoon I sat down and wrote it as a universal story, a story about children who are impacted by adult warfare.
Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?
Yes! To be hopeful. If adults in power truly commit to making the wellness of all children a priority, the world will be alright.
Did the book look the same in the end as your originally envisioned it when you started working, or did it change through the writing process?
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Usually when I write picture books I get strong visual images. For this story, I didn’t. I wrote it as a poem. Or maybe a prayer. The ending where the kite flies to the sea — I feared what it saw, the faces of the boy’s father and older brother wherever they were. When I saw Akin’s illustrations of the boy with wings and the one for the cover showing children and families enjoying a normal day at the beach, I was in awe of the magic that can happen in a picture book collaboration. He’d respected the trauma of the situation yet lifted the story into a place of hope. So it wasn’t me who changed the vision. It was the sensitivity and visual story-telling skill of Akin Duzakin.
Is there a character in your book that you relate to? If so, in what ways are you similar to your character and in what ways are you different?
The boy! As a child I’d get my friends to play or make something that expressed our desire for freedom. But unlike the boy my fear of guns might inhibit me from standing on a rooftop.
What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
My original version was written third person close. A critique partner suggested I make it first person. As soon as I did, I was in the heart and mind of the child and imagined it more fully.
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
Quiet. A walk or long bike ride in a forest or by the ocean. A good night’s sleep so I can think clearly.
Do you feel like there are any misconceptions about writing for young people? What do you wish people knew about what you do?
It’s harder than it looks!
What are you working on now?
A MG [middle grade] novel about climate change.
Anne Laurel Carter has published over twenty books, including The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, winner of the CLA Book of the Year for Children Award and the Society of School Librarians International Best Book Award. It was also named a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Book and a USBBY Outstanding International Book. Anne’s picture books include Rocky Waters, illustrated by Marianne Dumas, and Under a Prairie Sky, illustrated by Alan and Lea Daniel, winner of the Mr. Christie’s Book Award.