Kathryn Jean Hagen
Children’s Book Writer
Kathryn writes nonfiction and fiction children’s books. Kathryn is also a speech/language pathologist and special education administrator who has focused on young children’s language, pre-literacy, and literacy development for her entire adult life. Through this work she has internalized the voices of young children and has immersed herself in children’s picture books and chapter books. Kathryn carries this rich background and expertise into her writing.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders and master’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, Kathryn earned an educational specialist degree from St. Thomas University, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Kathryn lives in Minneapolis with her husband Tom and embraces the Twin Cities’ rich children’s writing community. She is involved in the Loft Literacy Center, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Highlights Foundation, critique groups, and events through two extraordinary children’s book stores—the Red Balloon in St. Paul and the Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis.
Kathryn was chosen from almost 500 applicants to be a 2019 @PBChat mentee with the exceptional author Nancy Churnin in the category of picture book biographies. The opportunity for one-on-one mentoring with Nancy was priceless!
Q & A with Kathryn
Why do you write children’s books?
Children’s books combine all the parts of writing I hold dear. I love and have always loved stories—listening, telling, reading, and writing stories. I love language and discovering the perfect word or phrase to make a story come alive. I love digging my teeth into research, not only for nonfiction but also to make my fiction authentic. I love wild imagination and quirky humor, both of which have a welcome home in children’s books.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, a small town near the North Dakota border. Surprising fact: no falls in Fergus Falls. From the age of one I lived and grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield where my father fixed appliances and my mother, who had started her teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse, was a substitute teacher. My “other” home was in rural Minnesota, where my siblings and I spent weeks each year living with my grandparents on their small farm.
What did you love when you were a child?
My first love was reading—under the bed covers, hidden in a closet at family events, in the back yard, anywhere. When I couldn’t find books or magazines, I read cereal boxes and advertisements.
My second love was spending time on the farm, where I worked in the fields with Grandpa and in the vegetable garden with Grandma. I lived for their stories about horses and wagons, wood stoves and oil lamps, foxes and wolves, and snow up to the second story windows.
My third love was my parakeet, Sammy. He was my best friend.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. A swarm of dragonflies, an overheard conversation, a bully hummingbird, memories and family stories, a lost sock, the blueberry that rolled away, birds and trees, lichen and tree roots, and heroes we don’t know—including children who have a disability and rarely see themselves in books. Ideas arrive from all directions, though they flow best when I walk solo around the lakes, hike in the woods, or drive to northern Minnesota without the radio.
Where do you write?
My office—a sunny second floor spot where I look out at trees and birds and my neighbors’ homes. It’s a cozy spot where my family members greet me from inside their picture frames and Cuban or African rhythms beat softly in the background.
Or at a coffee shop, before–and hopefully after–the pandemic.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Read and discuss books, hike, kayak, teach English to adult immigrants, dance at the YWCA, watch the waves of Lake Superior.
What do you do on vacation?
Explore far-off lands and visit our wonderful twin sons (and a delightful daughter-in-law and granddaughter) who live on the east and west coasts.
Favorite Writing Quotes:
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
― Madeleine L’Engle
“Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov
“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”
― Emily Dickinson