When tragedy struck a young Kat Kronenberg and her family, she found herself emotionally unprepared to handle the trauma. It wasn't until years later that she was able to dig her way out of that dark place through the power of books, and years later still when she felt moved to pen the books she wished she had to help her as a child. Keep reading for our chat with the author of the Live Big trilogy (you can stream Love Big and Dream Big on Vooks), where she shares about the heroes that got her through the darkness, what inspired her beloved children's books, and more.
What were you like as a child? Did you always know you wanted to be an author?
I did not grow up with the ambition to be an author. I was the youngest of four, so I missed the thrill of a good book because I lived in the back seat of a car. When I was home, I would be outside, either playing some sport or across the street in the creek looking for fossils. Finally, at the age of 40, the dream of being a writer found me.
What drew you to children's literature specifically?
As I grew older, I learned the power of a book to positively impact my life. For decades, I went on a quest to figure out how people live big no matter what happens in their life. So many books made an impact, like Victor Frankl’s book Nevertheless, Say "Yes" to Life, The Chronicles of Narnia, Daring Greatly, The Road Less Traveled, The Feel Good Book, and more. These books helped me build a better life, which is why I think the dream to write children’s books found me. Books can make a difference. I know they have in my life, so I focused on children’s literature, hoping that kids start to live big at a young age.
Your story is so inspiring, particularly how you turned such deep loss and grief into something beautiful. Can you tell us a bit about the U-shaped bridge?
I think these stories found me to write them because they were the books I needed as a girl. When my brother suddenly died from an arrhythmia, I was young but old enough to know I did not have any social-emotional skills or foundation underneath me. I describe it as being stuck in a dark room, alone, banging around for years until I slowly matured, read, and learned skills from folks who had gotten through way worse to live extraordinary lives. The greatest skill these people, whom I call heroes, shared was their U-shaped bridge, their smile. They could find gratitude and an ability to say, “YES!” no matter how bad the hardship. Their smile helped them bridge the gap in their life. The more I sought this skill, the happier my life became, bringing light into my room. I could also bridge the gap with people, asking for help in my dark moments, and I could also help them. I have learned what it means to love big and build trust, skills I needed to put a foundation underneath me.
What inspires your work and the stories you tell?
My inspiration comes from people whose lives shine. I have had the honor to meet so many people whose lives radiate. When I sit down to hear their story, I feel their ability to DREAM BIG, LOVE BIG, and THINK BIG. The crazy part is I realized that they have acquired these skills and chose this way of life. Through practice, I have also experienced moments when my life shines. There is no doubt this is how I aspire to live each day, and I hope my stories encourage others to do the same.
What’s your favorite part of the book creation process?
The best part of the book process has been seeing a child hold my actual book like it is their prized possession, seeing their eyes light up when we meet, and hearing why they love my books. Before I came to do an author visit, one school told me how the “Love Cans” from my website changed their classroom dynamics. Every day they made a point to be kind like Rhinoceros in my book. They’d discuss and write out each kindness to put in their Love Can. The love I felt in that school was mind-blowing—a top 10 moment for what I hoped my books could create.
Tell us a little bit about the Live Big trilogy. Where did the idea for this series come from and what lessons can little (and big!) minds learn from it?
The idea for the series came to me while I was at a symphony. I had my eyes closed, taking in the music, and it was like something whacked me over the head and said, “Kat, you are meant to write books about the power of a smile to help kids live their best life.” What? I had no idea what to do. I had never met an author. I had never considered writing a book, but I had a lot of experience with the power of a smile and how painful it is to lose yours. So, I went to work. I learned about writing. I fleshed out how books could help kids internalize the power of their smiles. We came up with three ways with the Live Big trilogy that the African Animals in my books call Powerful Secrets—shhh!
The first is Dream Big, to smile big in who you are and know the universe made you extraordinary, the only you who will ever be. The second is Love Big, with four life-changing ways to share smiles: be kind, share, listen, and care. The third is Think Big, when we learn to breathe deep and allow our head and heart to connect with an inside smile so we can be our "best me.”
The books also hearten the spiritual side of life. Carl Sagan, a famous astronomer, said, “We are all made of star-stuff. There are pieces of star within us all… Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious.” The trilogy focuses on the fact that we are all born with the wondrous gift of stardust in our hearts. How cool and scientifically true! Throughout the books, we celebrate how we can light our magical gift and shine. Watching my kids absorb these lessons and remind me about them when my parents passed away was the full circle moment I needed to know this stuff works if we choose it. Wow! I hope my readers will too.
Vooks has animated both Love Big and Dream Big. What has it been like seeing your work come to life with animation?
I love seeing my books come to life with animation, especially hearing Papa Baboon’s voice. I have listened to it for years in my voice as I wrote and then as I read at schools. But now, to hear it come to life with a real male baboon’s voice has been a highlight!
Your books use animals to convey very human emotions and concepts. Why do you think animals are such a great medium for getting your messages across to kids?
Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better.” Nature has held me and guided me over the years. I see animals and the wonders surrounding us as a window into our possibility. If a caterpillar can dare the crazy dream to fly, I can write a book. If a dung beetle can turn his literal poopy home into something good—a poop ball that fertilizes and sanitizes the land—I can turn my heartache and pain into something beautiful. If a whining, rude rhinoceros can grow a horn to remember to make a point to be kind every day, I can come up with ways to choose to live big each day. Studying the evolution of so many animals has taught me ways to think. The ways they grow and adapt to meet their needs and dreams is why I call them Teachers. I want my readers and I to grow, evolve, and fight to thrive as we figure out how to survive this crazy thing called life together.
Lastly, what is your favorite way to enjoy a good book?
A book becomes timeless when I get to share it with my granddaughters. There is nothing better than having them snuggle as we read, laugh, cry, and notice the fantastic art or animation as we share the story.