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Book Chat: Karen Hendriks

Karen Hendriks is a picture book author and teacher. Her first two books, Go Away, Foxy Foxy and Feathers have delighted readers and garnered fans in high places, including the Duchess of York! It's a pleasure to welcome Karen to Book Chat, to talk about her latest book, Home.

Hi Karen! A very warm welcome to Book Chat, and congratulations on the publication of your latest book, Home – an achingly beautiful story based on the real experiences of European refugees in the early post-WWII period. It’s a heartbreaking but also hopeful book that will give parents and teachers opportunities to sensitively discuss war and refugee issues with children.

Hi! Thanks so much for having me here today.

Firstly, I’d love to know about your journey as an author. Can you pinpoint where your interest in writing came from?

I always loved English at school but I had no idea that being a writer could be a career. When I was at university we had to write a creative short story for an assignment and the lecturer made a point of telling me I should write. This stuck in my mind for a very long time. As a university student I was involved with the creation of a big book at a local school titled, ‘Gang-Man-Gang’, which is a local Indigenous story. Then as a teacher I adored picture books and wanted to write them one day. Finally, five and half years ago I started writing. I still have much to learn but I am an author. My journey has begun.

Please tell us everything you’d like us to know about your latest book, Home, and what drove you to write it.

Home is inspired by my own family heritage and this is what drove me to write this gorgeous story. I wanted to give a voice to the Sudeten Germans and what happened to them after World War 2. This is a story that showcases strength, resilience and hope. For even if you have lost so much you still have hope, bravery and each other. I wanted to share that Australia was a country that gave many Europeans after the war the opportunity to build a new life. Australia gave hope and freedom.

In Home, the young narrator has a heart locket that whispers words of comfort and encouragement to her, frequently counterbalancing the darker times she experiences on her journeys as a refugee. Was this purely a literary device, or is it based on a real locket?

The heart locket in the story is based upon my very own heart locket that has been passed down to me. It is my link to the village of Wunschendorf, my treasure that connects me deeply to another time and place. When I wear my heart locket I can feel the story of my family.

Your illustrator, Alisa Knatko, has done a phenomenal job of capturing the emotion in your story and expressing it in a visually poetic way. Can you tell us a little about the nature of your collaboration with Alisa?

There was absolutely no collaboration with Alisa over the illustrations. She was engaged by my publisher Daisy Lane Publishing, and what a genius move that was. I was shown samples of Alisa’s work as the book was being developed and I was blown away. Alisa lives in St Petersburg, Moscow, Russia. The fact that Russia is not that far from the village of Wunschendorf gives the book an authenticity. Alisa is super talented.

I’d love to know about the process you go through when you start a new picture book manuscript. Do you tend to think visually when you write?

I am still relatively inexperienced as a writer so it takes me lots of time to develop a story and to gain confidence with it. Home was worked on for four years. It kept evolving and changing. I thought the early drafts were wonderful and now I can see how much work went into the story. For me it is always the words and then they give me that feeling or image.

How does your experience as a primary teacher – and particularly your work in Reading Recovery – inform your creative writing process?

Those years as a teacher have given me such a connection to children. When I was a Reading Recovery teacher, I saw the struggle and the want to read and I also saw the lack of opportunity for some children. Some children don’t have parents who read to them or who value books. For them, school is the only place to learn this. It has helped me in my creative writing to be authentic and real because that is what children connect with most of all. I want children to love all sorts of stories just like I do.

Can you offer any advice to other writers who are addressing emotionally challenging themes when writing for children?

Always give hope and know that children are smart so your story needs to be authentic and engaging.

What’s next for Karen Hendriks?

I will keep writing, hoping to discover more gold in my stories. There are only a few stories that you write that have that x-factor, that shine. It takes so much more than the story to be good. I will be writing and growing and hoping. I am being published in The Fractured Fairy Tales anthology compiled by Michelle Worthington on the 1st of September.

Where can readers find you online and get hold of Home, as well as your other books?

My webpage is being updated and it should be out in the world shortly which is super exciting ( I am working with Inge Walter and I can’t wait for the page to be launched. She has been patient and kind with me and my ideas for the webpage. I have three picture books out in the world. Go Away, Foxy Foxy, which is loads of fun. I have found younger children really engage with Foxy when I do author visits. Feathers has been read by Fergie on her You Tube Channel and was shortlisted for the Rubery Award 2021. Feathers is such a tender book that helps children deal with grief and it has been doing that beautifully. Home is newly released and it is a visually stunning book that suits the Australian school curriculum. You can find my books online through Booktopia, Dymocks, my publishers and my website. You can also ask for my books in your local library. I am happy to sign books personally for anyone that buys directly through me.

Thanks for taking the time to chat, Karen. l wish you great success with Home – it deserves to be read far and wide.

Thank you for your kind words, and I hope Home is read far and wide too.

This post is part of a blog tour for Home, presented by Books On Tour PR & Marketing. Please keep following Karen's journey this week on the blogs below.

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