What is your favorite childhood book from childhood? Many of us have that literary characters that holds a special place in our hearts and stays with us through life. For me that character is Angelina Ballerina.
This month I had a wish come true when I had the honor of meeting Katharine Holabird, the author and creator of the “Angelina Ballerina” and “Twinkle” book series. Sitting with Katharine and hearing of her journey that lead to the creation and publication of her first book, “Angelina Ballerina”, was amazing and a memory I will always cherish.
It is an honor to share with you the story that lead to a charming mouse who loves to dance!
Author of the “Angelina Ballerina” and “Twinkle” book series
Every now and then a wish comes true, and recently one became a reality for me:
I had the honor of meeting Katharine Holabird, author and creator of the “Angelina Ballerina” and “Twinkle” book series.
When I was a little girl, Angelina danced her way into my life when I received “Angelina’s Birthday” as a birthday gift. Endeared by Katharine’s writing and mesmerized by Helen Craig’s illustrations, I became an instant fan. Since her debut in 1983, Angelina has reached children in many different countries through multiple award winning books, animation series, off Broadway musicals, and even an Angelina Ballerina ballet.
For some time I’ve been curious to know how Angelina Ballerina was created, and what were the moments that lead to the birth of the iconic dancing mouse. I had a real desire to meet the author, hear her story, and express my gratitude for sharing her creativity with me and so many others. I enjoyed my conversation with Katharine so much, and it is a delight to share her story with you!
Since she was a little girl, Katharine loved making up stories and dancing like a ballerina, and luckily she was raised in a home that encouraged her creativity and dreams. Growing up in the city of Chicago, Katharine loved to dress up and play games and make believe with her three sisters. Katharine’s actress mother encouraged her daughters’ imaginary games and dances, and gave them scarves and hats to dress up in. These games continued and adapted to the outdoors during summer vacations in Michigan. The four sisters loved Michigan, where they played in the sand dunes, swam in the waves, and built their own teepees. Reminiscing about her early memories, Katharine shared that she strives for her female characters, like Angelina, to have this combined balance of fun and enthusiasm, grace and strength.
In addition to her creative spirit, Katharine always knew that she wanted to be a writer. She received a BA in Literature from Bennington College in Vermont, and after graduating she began her career path working at the college literary magazine. Not long after, she met and married her husband. In the 70’s the couple moved to London, where Katharine worked as a nursery school teacher and freelance writer, and soon became a mother. While raising her three young children, Katharine continued writing free-lance for a London publishing house, and eventually met Helen Craig, the English artist who would become Angelina’s illustrator.
Katharine and Helen’s first projects together were two mini books, “The Little Mouse ABC” and “The Little Mouse 1-2-3.” Then inspiration sparked. Katharine’s daughters were 3 and 5 and very much into ballet and dressing up, and one day as Katharine watched her little girls twirling around the kitchen in their pink tutus something clicked. In that moment Katharine knew she wanted to write a story for children who loved to dress up and dance and perform, just like her daughters. Katharine sat down at the kitchen table and wrote the first draft of what would become “Angelina Ballerina” about a small child who loves to dance. Already good friends, Katharine entrusted Helen to create the illustrations for her story. When they reconvened to review the initial story boards, Helen introduced Katharine to the little white mouse that we all now know so well! With the story and illustrations complete the little mouse found an American Publisher (Clarkson Potter) very quickly. Toward the end of production one detail still remained – what would they name the little dancing mouse? The publishers called a meeting, and as they were talking a secretary named Angela walked in, and inspiration sparked again! Without hesitation, Katharine knew her little heroine’s name was “Angelina Ballerina”.
It’s been thirty eight years since the original Angelina Ballerina storybook was published, and Angelina Ballerina has become a household name. Katharine says that writing for children is a joyful process, and she still loves using her imagination to create stories and characters. In her books she often writes about situations and concerns of young children, and hopes her stories will lead to communication and understanding between children and their parents. Katharine feels that writing for children is a privilege and an art.
“Writing a children’s story is almost like writing a poem. Storybooks are usually about 600-700 words, and the art is to create satisfying stories with humor and drama that will highlight the wonderful illustrations. There’s magic in putting it all together.”
I am so grateful to Katharine for taking the time to meet with me and share her story. Thank you for creating these characters and sharing them with all of us. Angelina Ballerina made a powerful impression on me as a little girl, and sharing her with the next generation is simply magical.
Kristina Lucia xoxo