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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Kate Hoefler, COURAGE HATS

Mae is a girl. Bear is a bear. But over the course of one life-changing, slightly nerve-racking train ride, they find out that this might be the only thing they don't have in common.


Written by Kate Hoefler and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley

Publisher: Chronicle Books (March 22, 2022)

Can you tell me the origin story behind Courage Hats?

KH: "I started writing Courage Hats when I needed courage myself. It was during a focus fellowship at AIR SFI – a wonderful surprise allowing me time to get away from everyday life to go into a small wooded community in Georgia to write. I had never just picked up and gone somewhere (for an extended period of time) on my own, and especially not to a place where I didn’t know a soul.

So really, the story came out of a place in my own chest where both fear and courage were doing their dance. And while I didn’t wonder if I would be eaten by bears in a 'bear place' or people in a 'people place' (like Mae and Bear in the story), I DID wonder other things – like if I was good enough, if I could even drive 11 hours on my own, if I could settle in, if I would be lonely, if I would…I don’t know, 'disappoint.'

So Courage Hats became a story about the unknown while I was also sitting in an unknown. And I began to see how, at least in my own experience, I never have all the courage I think I need up front to do anything I’m afraid to do. I have only a little courage – almost like something I’m temporarily trying on (like a hat). But it grows. It grows while I’m already doing the thing I’m afraid of. And that really opened my world – once I understood that. Sometimes courage doesn’t lead; it follows.

I didn’t want the story to be about whether a fear is valid. Fear is quite often irrational. But fear just IS. We live with it. I wanted Courage Hats to be a story without judgement about fear. Just a story about the little ways we get through it – and all the beauty on the other side of it.

(Beauty that kept coming through during that fellowship, too)."

For those who love Courage Hats, can you recommend a few other titles you think they might also enjoy? "There are so many lovely books about courage that I adore. And there are different kinds of courage. Here are some off the top of my head:

Books about warming up to courage (and 'trying on' courage): Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead, Wolf Girl by Jo Loring-Fisher, Mole in a Black & White Hole by Tereza Sediva, and A Song in the Mist by Corrinne Averiss and Fiona Woodcock.

Books about the courage to be who we are: Keith Among the Pigeons by Katie Brosnan, Jerome By Heart by Thomas Scotto and Olivier Tallec, Zero Local by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow, Bird Boy by Matthew Burgess and Shahrzad Maydani.

Books where it’s lovely to ask a reader, ‘what kind of (beautiful) courage is this?’: Something Good by Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken, Everyone Walks Away by Eva Lindström, Over the Shop by JonArno Lawsom and Qin Leng, and I Dream of a Journey by Akiko Miyakoshi."

I imagine language is something you pay particular attention to in picture books given your background in poetry. What are some picture books you turn to over and over for their rhythm, or for the beauty of their words? "So many! These days, I’m very much drawn to economy – books doing a lot with no waste, no excess – each word holding a lot of muscle. That’s what I keep finding stunning. Here’s a list off the top of my head (in no particular order) that serve as lanterns to me, and guiding lights for that kind of beautiful economy: Small in the City by Sydney Smith, A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead, I Am A Bird by Hope Lim and Hyewon Yum, The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc, The Dreamer by Il Sung Na, The Invisible Bear by Cécile Metzger,

The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyahkoshi, The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien, The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken, Once I Was a Bear by Irene Luxbacher, The Old Truck (and The Old Boat) by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, and The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead. Two 'older' books that continue to swim in my chest for their rhythm are I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay and The Stars Will Still Shine by Cynthia Rylant and Tiphanie Beeke."


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