Culture

Arkansas Children’s Author Kristin Gray

March 9, 2017

Arkansas is home to some wonderful writers, and debut children’s author Kristin Gray is no exception. Born and raised in Little Rock and now living in Fayetteville, Kristin is a homegrown Arkansas writer.

As a girl, Kristin “scratched stories, usually awkward mysteries inspired by Nancy Drew, into a spiral notebook.” It was her love for reading that she centered her early years around. She often fell asleep with a book in her hands and her parents had to turn out the light. Years later, Kristin rediscovered her love for children’s literature when she had her own children.

“Children’s stories, even the gritty ones, remain hopeful,” Kristin says. “I never outgrew those stories. I love their humor, honesty, and epic sense of adventure.”

Kristin grew up not knowing anyone who wrote for a living. She didn’t hear an author speak until she was a teenager, and even then, she didn’t realize becoming an author was something she could do. She distinctly remembers reading the Click Clack Moo picture books to her children and loving the humor in the stories. She began to dream about creating her own books and enrolled in online writing classes through the Institute for Children’s Literature. Later she became involved with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which has a chapter in Arkansas.

One day as Kristin drove along I-40 on a trip to Little Rock, she spied the exit sign for Vilonia Beebe near Conway and thought Vilonia would be a wonderful name for a character. The idea for Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge was born.

Kristin loves dogs and recognized the natural connection between children and animals would be a great story. Originally she envisioned a story about a girl who could face the challenges of adopting a puppy born preterm. As she researched for her book, she ran across article after article on pet therapy.

Pet therapy is a growing trend and is being utilized by hospitals, veteran’s programs, libraries, schools and nursing homes. Dogs are the most popular animals in pet therapy, but other animals like cats, horses, guinea pigs and rabbits can also be involved. Visits from these certified pet therapists can help lower stress and anxiety for hospital patients, veterans suffering from PTSD and children learning to cope with autism.

Kristin decided to pursue the idea of pet therapy for her story. Vilonia Beebe is a spunky fourth-grader who wants to prove she is responsible enough to care for a dog. The back cover of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge has this to say about Vilonia’s struggles.

            Being responsible is NOT easy.

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Fourth grader Vilonia hasn’t lost her raincoat in the three weeks she’s had it and she’s     brushed her teeth every night and she’s volunteered to be the Friday Library Helper. But all that hard work is worth it if it means she can get a dog. Besides, this dog isn’t just because Vilonia has wanted one for pretty much ever. It’s also to help Mama, who’s been lost in one, big sadness fog for forty-three days—ever since Nana died. But Vilonia read that pets can help with sadness.

Now all she has to do is keep the library goldfish alive over spring break, stop bringing stray animals home, and help Mama not get fired from her job. And she’s got to do all of it before the Catfish Festival. Easy as pie, right?

Kristin wanted to write a story with heart. The death of a grandparent is often the first time children confront tough issues like grief and watch their parents work through their own sadness. Vilonia’s story of a girl and a dog helping a family cope with their pain is one many people, not just children, can relate to.

Though Vilonia’s story takes place in a small fictional town in Mississippi, a couple of Arkansas towns make an appearance in the book. Kristin says Arkansas readers may pick up on a few other nods to the state, but you’ll have to read the story to find them.

Kristin has two dogs that helped inspire her writing. Roxie is an energetic, 2-year-old Airedale who loves to eat peanut butter, and Lucy is a sweet 9-year-old Border terrier who alternates between napping and watching for squirrels. “Sometimes, my dogs drive me bananas, but I love them anyway,” Kristin says.

Find out how Vilonia’s quest to get her dog turns out when Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge debuts Tuesday, March 7. NightBird Books in Fayetteville is hosting a release party for Kristin that day from 4:00-6 p.m. You can drop by the store, meet Kristin and get your book signed.

Central Arkansas readers can catch Kristin Saturday, March 11, at Barnes & Noble in Little Rock at 2 p.m. Northwest Arkansas readers get another chance to meet her at Barnes & Noble in Rogers the following Tuesday, March 14, from 4:00-6 p.m.

Find out more about Kristin and Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge at Kristin’s website, kristinlgray.com.

Photos are courtesy of Kristin Gray and used with permission.

Kimberly Mitchell

Arkansas Women Blogger member Kimberly Mitchell is pursuing writing and life in Northwest Arkansas. When she’s not writing or teaching preschool fitness, she’s cheering on the Razorbacks, playing soccer, and dreaming about traveling the world. Follow her on Twitter @KSMitch17 and check out her website kimberlymitchell.us for updates on all of the above.