Hannigan and Hannigan: Talking April Book Releases with Two (Different!) Children’s Authors

One of us is Katherine Hannigan; Kate to family. The other is Kate Hannigan; Kathleen only if we’re being formal. We both write books for kids. We both live in the Midwest. And somehow the stars aligned so that we both have books coming out in April (which sounds like the first steps in The Hannigans’ Diabolical Design to Take Over the Universe, but it’s not).

After an online bookseller gave us both credit for writing one of our new books, we got in touch. Here’s a bit of our getting to know each other:


Kate Hannigan: I’ve received your mail, your award notifications, invitations to speak in my kids’ classrooms at school because, “Katherine, you’re an important author.” Has anyone ever mistaken you for me?


Katherine Hannigan: Oh my goodness, that is not right. I’m just glad no one has thrown eggs, and you haven’t been served with subpoenas meant for me.


I live in a tiny town in Iowa, where I am the only Hannigan for many miles, so I don’t think I’ve ever been mistaken for anyone else. That said, when my family calls me “Kate,” have they been wishing all along that I was you?


Kate Hannigan: I am a Sagittarius, and I sneeze in fives and sevens. Also, I love avocados, anything blue, and ’80s power ballads. Is it possible you’re the same? Could we be twins, separated at birth?


Katherine Hannigan: Cancer, single sneezes, frozen blueberries, and those rockin’ dudes of the Baroque era—Bach, Handel, Vivaldi.


It also looks like you have a cute nose, and are generally adorable.

I might WISH we were twins, but I’m afraid not.


Kate Hannigan: My Hannigans are from Ireland, County Donegal. I can sunburn under a lightbulb. You?


Katherine Hannigan: First of all, I would pay you in potatoes to see that.


My mother’s parents were Irish immigrants from Counties Longford and Offaly. I have no idea where my Hannigans are from. They may be hiding something…


Here’s how Irish I am: Once, seeing me in my swimsuit, a woman exclaimed, “You are the palest person I have ever seen.” Twice, people have asked me if I was wearing white stockings when, in fact, I was bare-legged (and they were not being mean). I may glow in the dark.


Gwendolyn GraceKate Hannigan: On April 21st, you’re making your debut as a picture book author/illustrator with Gwendolyn Grace (Greenwillow Books). Could you share a bit about what your latest book is about?


Katherine Hannigan: Gwendolyn Grace is an alligator in a tutu who’s all about fun. But there’s a new baby in the family, and GG is trying to figure out what’s changed and what’s stayed the same at her house. So when her mom asks her to be quiet while the baby’s sleeping, she agrees, but then asks, “Do you mean…no more making music in the kitchen (i.e. playing on the pots and pans), swimming in the ocean (i.e. scuba diving in the bathtub)…sledding down the mountain (i.e. taking a toboggan down the stairs)…?” It ends with them all having fun (and making noise) together.


The Detective’s AssistantKatherine Hannigan: Now tell me about The Detective’s Assistant (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 7th).


Kate Hannigan: Mine is about a girl, Nell, who comes to live with a relative in pre-Civil War Chicago, and she quickly learns that her aunt is a detective. Nell makes herself useful in many ways, and soon she’s getting to tag along on wild adventures with her aunt. It’s based on the experiences of America’s first woman detective, Kate Warne, who was hired by Allan Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in 1856. When I came across Kate Warne’s story, I felt like everybody should know about her – she was a master of disguise, a pioneer in her profession, and most importantly, she was instrumental in thwarting a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on the way to his first inauguration.


What I hope young readers see is that women played exciting parts in America’s history, too, but often their stories were lost or forgotten. I set out to tell an exciting, exhilarating story, but at its essence, it’s about family and finding a sense of belonging.


Kate Hannigan: Your debut novel, Ida B., was a Josette Frank Award winner, a 2004 Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book selection, and Quill Award Nominee. You’ve done the name proud. What inspired you to write Ida B.?


Katherine Hannigan: I was teaching art and design at Iowa State when I wrote Ida B. I wrote it for fun and for me. It was the story I most wanted to hear. And this is the best thing about writing stories for fun and for yourself: You can do whatever you want in them. In my story, I wanted parents who loved each other and their child deeply and beautifully, so I made them. Talking apple trees? Gave my story a bunch of them. I wanted an extraordinary teacher who watched and listened and understood, and who read out loud every day, so I made her up, too. And, most of all, I wanted a kid who was fiercely loving, who would mess up AND be willing to make things right. I gave her to the story, and myself.


That story was my dreams come true. Then I shared it, and it became something even better.


Katherine Hannigan: How about you? Why did you start writing stories for kids?


Kate Hannigan: My background is journalism, so I’ve always been drawn to stories and histories and why people do things. I’ve always been a pretty good eavesdropper too, which I think is a big part of being a storyteller.


After working in newspapers for a while, I knew I wanted to do something a little more creative. And with three babies, I was immersed in children’s books. You know how it is with kids: you don’t just read favorite books once, twice, even three times. You really get to know them by reading them over and over again. So I began messing around with my own stories and found that, even though what I was writing was a hot mess, the whole process was cathartic and felt wonderful. And so I’ve tried to write the stories I would have wanted to read when I was 10, and stories my kids want to read – ones where the dog doesn’t die and there is a sense of exhilaration and fun and love.


Kate Hannigan: You followed up Ida B. with Emmaline and the Bunny (2009) and True (. . . Sort Of) in 2011. And now Gwendolyn Grace, which you’ve both written AND illustrated. Clearly you’re the Hannigan with all the talent. Are you trained as an artist? What has your creative process been like in bringing Gwendolyn Grace to publication?


Katherine Hannigan: That’s such a lovely compliment, and difficult to digest. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen myself that way, but thank you.


The illustration gig makes more sense than some of my other ventures and avocations, since I actually have degrees in art.


It has been so fun, and SO, SO challenging to put words and pictures together. Virginia Duncan, my editor, says creating a picture book is like assembling a puzzle, and she’s right—if you’re talking about a million-pieced puzzle that’s been charmed by a mischievous witch so that, every time you join a few pieces, the other ones change shape, and the image of the entire puzzle transforms.


One of my favorite things on my website shows one page of Gwendolyn Grace from first sketches to finished art. I wish I could have seen that process as a child. I would have been so relieved to know that perfect drawings don’t fly out of artists’ fingers—that they take time and revision. Here’s the link: http://www.katherinehannigan.com/GwendolynGrace-illustration.html


Katherine Hannigan: What has your experience with picture books been like?


Kate Hannigan: So far, I’ve spent most of my time working on middle-grade novels. The Cupcake Cousins series with Disney-Hyperion has been so much fun, as I’ve created a little world that readers and I can go back to. Book 2 in the series publishes in June, and it’s titled Cupcake Cousins: Summer Showers. The family gathers for more adventures, only this time it’s a baby shower for Aunt Rosie that brings them together. And The Detective’s Assistant is a middle-grade novel for just a smidge older, around third- to seventh-grades.


But I am happy to say that I’m diving into the world of picture books! I’m working with a publisher on a non-fiction picture book biography about an amazing woman in American history, expected to publish in 2017. It’s been a great experience so far but very different from writing longer novels. I’ve had to rethink sentence structure, making every single word count. It’s remarkable what people like you can do in just 32 pages! So I’m learning an entirely different way to tell a story. I can’t wait to see the finished product!