Conversation with In a Cave creators, Heather Kinser and Bonnie Kelso
Today we are chatting with both the creators of In a Cave: writer Heather Ferranti Kinser and illustrator Bonnie Kelso. This book in rhyme that features two young spelunkers who explore a limestone cave with their guide has received positive reviews from the School Library Journal and Midwest Book Review.
Our Conversation with Heather and Bonnie:
GRP: Welcome, both of you to our blog! We'd like to start by asking what was the inspiration behind the text and illustrations for In a Cave?
Heather: I had the pleasure of visiting three caves before embarking on writing this book—Mammoth Cave, Mercer Caverns, and Moaning Caverns. On a 2019 trip to Kentucky for my husband’s family reunion, I was keen to visit Mammoth Cave again—this time for a shared experience with my kids. The principals of good cave stewardship are important for all cave visitors to know, and I was keenly aware of them upon entering the cave. Somewhere along our fascinating descent, the rhyming phrase “how to behave in a cave” became fixed in my mind. I loved the serendipity of that rhyme. The following January, during Tara Lazar’s Storystorm picture-book idea challenge, I jotted the phrase on my ideas list. It was one that resonated with me, and I later chose to expand it into a story. The first iterations were a little too preachy, but my critique partners helped me tone down the “how to behave” parts and turn it into a lively underground adventure.
Bonnie: When I first read Heather's manuscript, I had flashbacks of my trip to New Zealand where I spent several days exploring the Waitomo Caves. It was my first time maneuvering through caves in a wetsuit and I was fascinated by all the sounds of water dripping and sometimes rushing around. I wanted to evoke that sense of being in a wild and upredictable place.
GRP: What’s your favorite moment or character in the book and why?
Heather: I think I like the cave bacon best. Yum! I also love the moment where the family sees a pinpoint of light leading them up and out into the bright sun.
Bonnie: My favorite part is when they look down into the pool of water and see all the troglobytes swimming around. Cave critters are so cool!
Heather: Living creatures who make their homes in caves adapt in interesting ways, often losing their pigment or eyesight because these traits/senses aren’t needed in a dark environment.
GRP: What do you feel is the main message that In a Cave conveys?
Heather: In writing this story, I wanted to inspire kids to meet nature with wonder and respect rather than fear, indifference, or a sense of conquest. Caves are fragile systems that can easily be damaged if disturbed, so cave visitors should be prepared to be good stewards and follow “leave no trace” principles.
Bonnie: Absolutely! I tried to show that respect through the illustrations as well. The visitors stay within the path boundaries, hinted at through glimpses of railings and steps in the cave.
GRP: We recently learned that you both share a common catalyst for starting your journey in picture books. Would you mind talking about that?
Heather: It was a cancer diagnosis in my 40s that spurred me to doggedly pursue my publication dream and start studying picture-book writing in earnest.
Bonnie: Likewise, I was diagnosed with breast cancer right after joining SCBWI. It definitely put my goals in focus for me. The experience has made me realize that there really is no better time than right now to pursue my dreams.
GRP: What an inspiring story that is. Thank you both for sharing some of your personal journey with us. Are there any fun anecdotes you would like to leave our readers with?
Heather: When I was young, my much older brother and sister created a bound and illustrated book for me as a Christmas gift. It was one of my all-time favorite presents, and it raised my awareness of books as creative projects and “made” objects.
Bonnie: I love that, Heather! I wrote my first chapter book when I was in the fourth grade. It was a tragic story about a bunch of stray kittens who died in horrible ways. I don't think it would sell in today's marketplace, but, at least I finished it!
GRP: LOL! Thank you Heather and Bonnie for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing more great work from both of you in the future.