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Kaz Windness: On Bitsy Bat and Feeling Upside Down (SEL, Autism)

"In one word: Acceptance. Neurodivergent people should not be asked to perform neurotypical behavior in order to appear 'normal.'"



Hi Kaz, A warm welcome back to A NOVEL MIND! You were last here to tell us about your picture book,Worm and Caterpillar are Friends. Now, can you please tell us how the idea for your latest, Bitsy Bat, School Star, came about?


Bats are a big special interest of mine, and one of my favorite animals to draw. I created a couple cute and spooky bat picture book concepts, but my publisher wasn’t interested in Halloween books. Holiday books have a short shelf life, and I’m too new to the children’s publishing world to take a risk like that. (My debut, Swim, Jim!, just came out May 2022.)


One day I struck up a conversation with one of my college illustration students --- someone who is autistic like me -- about growing up neurodivergent. I compared it to being like a bat in a school for mice. Everything can feel upside down, and when I tried to act like everyone else, it made me feel more confused, upset, and more prone to meltdown or shutdown. I began to realize bats were the perfect symbol for being autistic.


Bitsy Bat, School Star gives voice to a character who is female-presenting and coded as a high-masking autistic. This specific perspective isn’t well-covered, but it’s applicable to many autistic children and relatable to any kid who has ever felt like they are different or misunderstood.


As a high-masking autistic girl, I would have really appreciated seeing this representation back in the day. Tell us: What is your process like? Did you work on the text first or the illustrations--or both simultaneously?


It’s a bit of both. My books are character-driven, so getting to know the character by drawing them inspires the story. In publishing, the manuscript usually comes first, so as I’m working with my wonderful editor, Catherine Laudone at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, I provide her with a synopsis, a rough manuscript, and we work through several rounds of edits. I was also drawing some of the scenes in my sketchbook. I think in pictures, so drawing helps me tell the story. Once the written story was in good shape, I worked with my fabulous art director, Laurent Linn, to develop the book art.




Laurent Linn is a legend, and your illustrations are very fun. What do you hope kids take away from the story, especially about autism and neurodivergence?


In one word, acceptance. Neurodivergent people should not be asked to perform neurotypical behavior in order to appear “normal.” This is very harmful to us. We do need accommodation so our classrooms, workplaces, and social environments are accessible. Most of these accommodations aren’t difficult to provide. The biggest accommodation is compassion. My hope is that BitsyBat, School Star helps all kids feel seen, celebrated, and accepted.



We wholeheartedly agree. What are you working on now, Kaz?


Bitsy Bat has more stories in her! Stay tuned! Here are some other books coming out soon:


Cat vs. Vac, a funny level-one Ready-to-Read with Simon Spotlight, comes out in August 2023.


Ollie, the Acorn, and the Big Idea, written by Andrew Hackett with Page Street Kids, will be out in early 2024.


I’m also still promoting my very recent release, Worm and Caterpillar are Friends (Simon Spotlight). It is my first graphic novel and a Level 1 early reader about friendship and acceptance.


Anything else our readers should know?


Yes! I’ve hired a wonderful teacher and curriculum expert, Leah Robinson, to create lesson plans for Bitsy Bat, School Star and Worm and Caterpillar are Friends. You can find those pinned on my blog at www.KazWindness.com.


Please visit me at https://linktr.ee/KazWindness for book links, social media links, and ways for me to visit your community. I love presenting at schools and event centers and sharing the process of storytelling and illustrating with young readers!




 


Kaz Windness is an author-illustrator who loves to make her readers laugh.


When she's not writing or illustrating books, Kaz teaches illustration at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design and enjoys making deep-dish pizza.


For more about Kaz, visit her at www.WindnessBooks.com.








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