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Artist Spotlight: Brooke Hartman

Artist Spotlight: Brooke Hartman

Award-winning author Brooke Hartman has an imagination bigger and wilder than her home state of Alaska. In addition to her forthcoming (and dare we say, highly anticipated) picture book with Hazy Dell Press, Klyde the Kraken Wants a Friend, Brooke has two more picture books dropping in the near future: Watch Out for the Lion (with Page Street Kids) and All Aboard the Alaska Train (with West Margin Press). Brooke recently chatted with Hazy Dell Press about the origins of Klyde the Kraken Wants a Friend, the friendly monster’s surprising depth, and the delicate business of introducing lessons that don’t spoil the fun. 

Can you remember your initial spark of inspiration to write Klyde the Kraken Wants a Friend?
Yes! A handful of years ago, an agent friend (who would later go on to become my agent) posted on social media that she’d love a book featuring a kraken. As a lover of all things myth and monster, the challenge stuck with me. But no matter what kraken lore claimed about these aquatic giants, I couldn’t bring myself to envision a kraken as terrifying. In fact, I wondered if all those sunken ships were just a kraken’s way of looking for some extra cuddles…and thus, the story of Klyde was hatched!

(Illustration by Laura Borio)

Klyde the Kraken Wants a Friend is a buoyant, fun story featuring a memorable character, and it also has a powerful, underlying message of social-emotional learning. Can you talk about how you balanced all of these aspects while maintaining a light and bouncy energy throughout?

The story began with a character—Klyde, the kraken—who wants to hug EVERYTHING in the sea. Snails. Sharks. Scallops. Squids. Salmon…and even ships. At first, the story was just about that, but after several critique partners recommended that I dig deeper (why does Klyde want to hug everyone? And how do all his would-be chums feel about it when he does?), the true depth of Klyde and his social-emotional journey became clear. But I didn’t want to hit readers over the head with a lesson (not even adults want to be banged over the head with a lesson, and kids can sniff that stuff out from miles away!), so I kept this part light and fun, and circled back to Klyde’s goofy grins as often as possible.

You are such a prolific writer! Out of all the books that you’ve written so far, what about Klyde the Kraken Wants a Friend makes you particularly proud?
I’ve loved this story from its first inceptions as a baby kraken (krakenette? krakenling??). It’s been through many iterations (in an early draft, Klyde hugged the ship itself and dragged it to the bottom of the sea, where it became his rather mute and motionless buddy). But what makes me most proud about this story is that, as many publishing tales go, there’s been a lot of ups and downs, dips and swells, but like the tale of Klyde himself, this book has finally found great friends in the home port of Hazy Dell Press and illustrator Laura Borio.

Many of your other books feature animals or mythical creatures. What continues to draw you to these subjects?
I should start by explaining that I spent a solid year of my young life believing I was actually a unicorn. One day, I’d turn back into my true four-hooved, single-horn shape, and my unicorn herd would come take me away to live with them in the mountains behind my house. Sure, I’d be sad to leave my family—but I’d be a unicorn!! This heartfelt belief has never come to fruition (though I’m not giving up hope quite yet!), but I’ve always been fascinated by animals factual, fictional, and everything in between. Because when the line between truth and fantasy gets blurred, this is where imagination blossoms—when horses grow wings, dino-lizards breath fire, and squid the size of houses go searching for friends and learn valuable life lessons along the way. 

(Illustration by Laura Borio)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Do you remember when you decided to make it your career?
I’ve written for fun ever since I was a wee babe (okay, maybe more like first grade) and was always penning poems and rhymes for contests, or even as part of essay reports for English assignments (often to my teacher’s chagrin). But I never considered writing to publish until I was a late teen when I wrote a picture book draft about Jack Frost and started researching what it took to get it traditionally published. Unfortunately, neither that manuscript nor many that came after ever became an actual book, but learning about the process got my writing wires whirring, and eventually it worked out!

If you could give one piece of advice to a young, aspiring writer, what would it be?
Have fun with your writing, no matter what it’s on! Whether the subject is political history or panda bears, there’s always some intriguing nugget or fun fact that will make it interesting for you and the reader. Add a sprinkle of your own voice when and where you can (remember, my English teachers didn’t always appreciate my rhyming essay responses, though I didn’t always let that stop me!). Be creative and look for inspiration in both the extraordinary and the mundane. Because you never know when one of those inspirational nuggets will hatch into a book that readers will want to hug.