“Children’s books are magical.”
Sant Bani School second grade teacher Kari (Diederich) Allen ’98 has long been drawn to children’s literature. Allen often peruses the children’s literature section of book stores and she enjoys the attentive investment her second grade students display when they become captivated by a story.
For several years she also dreamt of one day authoring a children’s book. Allen soon will realize her dream when two of her publications, Maddie and Mabel and The Boy Who Loved Maps hit bookshelves in 2022. Maddie and Mabel is an “early reader” and will be released in March, followed by picture book The Boy Who Loved Maps in July.
Growing up on nearby Newfound Lake, Allen attended Sant Bani School for nine years beginning in fourth grade. She credits her time at SBS for fostering in her a love of reading and writing.
“My English education at SBS was stellar and put me on a path of loving books and seeing the power of using the written language to communicate with others,” Allen explained. “Looking back, having some of my writing and poetry published in ‘The Cygnet’ was hugely impactful. It helped me to see that writing is meant to be shared and read. Having pieces picked to be included made me feel like my writing mattered.”
After graduating from Sant Bani School, Allen attended Smith College where she studied English and Education and Childhood Development. It was during her time at Smith that Allen became particularly interested in children’s literature after she took a course on the subject.
Allen returned to Sant Bani School to begin her teaching career the fall after her graduation from Smith and taught at SBS for seven years before stepping away from the classroom to be a stay-at-home parent following the birth of her eldest son, Marek ’24. During her time away from teaching, Allen worked with the National Writing Project in New Hampshire teaching graduate courses in Children’s Literature, creating workshops for teachers on best practices in the teaching of reading and writing, and running summer camps for youth writers.
While she was participating in a Summer Institute with the National Writing Project in New Hampshire, Allen wrote a piece which her instructor said felt like a children’s book. With her instructor’s encouragement, Allen entered a submission in a contest for unpublished children’s writers.
“Although I lost the contest, the seed was planted,” Allen said. “I began researching writing contests, conferences, and the publishing industry. I attended one in New York and was hooked. I knew then becoming a published author was a dream I wanted to pursue.”
In 2018, Allen moved one step closer to achieving her dream when she signed a contract with Penguin Random House to publish The Boy Who Loved Maps. With the publishing timeline was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the book will be released in July, 2022.
What was the inspiration for her first book? Her son Marek.
“When Marek was younger, he would spend hours drawing maps,” Allen explained. “I called him ‘my mapmaker’ and one day thought, ‘wait, that’s a good idea for a story.’ ”
Ready to resume her teaching career, Allen returned to the Sant Bani School classroom in 2019 as the School’s second grade teacher. She credits her students for inspiring some of her story ideas.
In addition to writing picture books, Allen also authors Early Reader books, which typically are intended for children between ages 6 and 8. She recently signed a four-book deal with Kind Word Publishing with the first book, Maddie and Mabel, scheduled for release in March 2022.
The publishing process has not come without its challenges.
“Publishing is an incredibly slow process which involves hearing a lot of ‘no,’ ‘not yet,’ and ‘almost,” Allen said. “On average, a picture book takes two years to make. You can have things out in submission for months or even years. It can take an editor two months to respond to you, sometimes more. And, sometimes it’s all about timing and finding the right person for the right project at the right time. Once I was rejected because the publisher just picked up a book about roosters, so the book I had written that also featured a rooster had just got to them too late.”
Of course, at the conclusion of a long journey often comes a reward.
“One of the best things about publishing is that I have connected to some pretty incredible people,” Allen said. “Kid-lit people are wonderful. I’ve formed some amazing friendships with people that I never would have met if it weren’t for writing conferences or critique groups. They have become who I turn to when rejections roll in and celebrate all the small steps along the way with.”
The second of Allen’s four-book series is due for release in August with the publication timeline for the final two books still pending. In the meantime, she will continue searching for future story ideas and furthering her love of children’s literature.