Katharine Holabird grew up in Chicago at a time when “TV hadn’t become a fixture in every home, and we created our own imaginative world”. The second of four daughters, she loved to dress up and dance with her sisters, pretending to be beautiful ballerinas. Annual invitations to the ballet with her grandmother made a deep impression. “It was thrilling to see real performances of Cinderella, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.” Katherine remembers, “I was absolutely spellbound.” Katharine was also an avid reader with a particular liking for tales of heroic animals and equally courageous children. “I loved the secret world of books,” says Katharine, “and was delighted to discover I could create characters and worlds of my own.”
While studying literature at Bennington College in Vermont, Katharine was encouraged by her professor, “Write,” they said, “Just keep writing and don’t give up.” After graduating, she worked as a literary editor for a year. Then she traveled to Italy on a holiday, and made an impulsive decision to stay in Rome and learn Italian. In Rome she began working for the movie industry magazine Variety. “The pay was awful,” Katharine remembers, “but it was a great apprenticeship. I visited movie locations, interviewed actors like Dirk Bogarde and Marcello Mastroanni, and wrote at length. What a shock when my glorious text was edited down to nothing and I had to rewrite every word. I’ve never forgotten what I learned at Variety – always be prepared to rewrite.”
In 1974, Katharine married and moved to London, where she found work as a nursery school teacher. The young schoolchildren gave Katharine “a wonderful introduction to London”, along with classic English children’s books such as Alfie and The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Teaching boisterous children in London was the perfect prelude to the birth of Katharine’s first daughter in 1976.
Katharine was the mother of two young daughters when, with artist Helen Craig, she created Angelina Ballerina in 1982. “My little girls and their friends reminded me of my childhood enthusiasm for dance. They were completely mad about ballet, and I was struck by the daily drama of their lives, both in and out of ballet classes. The courage and determination it takes to be a small performer impressed me, as did all the emotional upheavals that take place behind the scenes. Whispered secrets, disappointment and jealousy, stage fright and tears while yearning to be a little star, are all part and parcel of a theatrical child’s everyday life. I wanted to write something especially for all the passionate little dancers and performers in the world, and decided to explore the impulsive, highly emotional character of a small but determined ballerina.”
When she first wrote about Angelina, Katherine envisaged her character as a little girl, but when artist Helen Craig showed her the first drawings of Angelina as a mouse, it worked perfectly. “The impulsive character of Angelina came alive,” says Katharine, “and seemed to pirouette off the page with enthusiasm and energy, while her plump and ebullient body expressed drama and attitude in every twitch of her tail.
The award-winning Angelina Ballerina books are a great way for children to explore important issues such as friendship, rivalry, loyalty and dedication. “Angelina’s experiences are pretty universal,” Katharine says, “and I think children like to read about someone who can lose her temper and then struggles to get over it and apologize. They certainly know how Angelina feels! After all, most children don’t find growing up particularly easy, and there’s not much point in a pretty picture book that doesn’t reflect the emotional issues they’re dealing with everyday.”
Katharine writes from a room in her London home, with a view of trees, birds and sky. “When my children were young, writing time was precious, so I mostly wrote during school hours and after their bedtime (although I remember constant interruptions and hot little fists rapping on the door).” Now that Katharine’s three children are grown up, she has more leisure to write. Nevertheless, it’s important to her to remain in close touch with young people. “There’s an awful lot going on when children play together, and I guess it’s the mixture of comedy and tragedy on the mini-stage of childhood that still fascinates me.”
The Angelina Ballerina books have been translated into 6 languages.
An Online Children’s Book Review Journal
Through The Looking Glass Children’s Book Reviews
Kids book reviews, including book reviews of chapter books, novels, picture books, and non-fiction from famous children’s literature authors. Your review site of books for children.
Welcome to Through the Looking Glass Book Reviews. We have moved! Please visit the new site at www.lookingglassreview.com to enjoy the new website.