What do you get when you combine a passion for American history, a lifetime of doodling, and a literary challenge? Emilie Kefalas, the children’s book author and illustrator behind “A Capitol Dream” and her newest release, “A Call to Congress.”
What started your love of Capitol Hill and American history, and how did that love turn into a desire to write children’s books?
Emilie Kefalas: I credit the unbelievably passionate history teachers I was fortunate to learn under as my cornerstone for my love of history, world and American. My love of Capitol Hill and all its moving body parts came about as a result of me following my love of history to Washington, DC one summer. After my freshman year at Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame (my pre-SCAD days), I interned in the office of Congressman Rodney Davis from my home district in Illinois. That experience is the reason I just swoon and adore all the Hill is, was, and will be.
Physically discovering the Capitol reinforced my fascination with American history, because suddenly the events and people I’d only read about to that point became alive and preserved in this beautiful building, this OFFICE. The Capitol is not a museum but in fact an office for our Legislative Branch. It’s living and breathing and making history every day.
It’s like loving chocolate then going to a chocolate factory where you not only get to eat the chocolate, but also WITNESS its creation.
The idea to write a children’s book about the Capitol itself manifested in my doodles from my internship as well as my mom’s encouragement this kind of book was necessary for children. Look around the literary world. Plenty of titles exist about people in DC, the city itself, history itself, but so few take you inside the Capitol and show you what a real tour would.
Giving tours of the Capitol to constituents who visited our office was hands down my favorite duty as an intern, because I got to show them history as it happened. I got to show them the chocolate factory.
What was it like combining civics, history, and a physical tour of the House and Senate chambers into a story for young readers?
EK: The task to weave those elements harmoniously was, in a word, challenging. You want nothing but facts and purity in a children’s book about a place too many Americans view as a hotbed of deals, disagreements, and political games.
My desire from the beginning was to keep this story, “A Capitol Dream,” unbiased, representative of multiple American narratives, and FUN. What I didn’t want was to write a lecture, a class lesson that would lose readers after page four because it sounded “too school-ish.” That’s not what I wanted when I started reading in my youth, and you know the saying, “write what you would like to read.”
To oversee this process successfully, I sought input from trusted former teachers, mentors, and some of my favorite childhood reads if for no other reason than to acquire perspective. I also kept my Capitol tour guide pamphlet from my days as an intern within an arm’s reach, because every stop included in “A Capitol Dream” is straight from the tours I used to give.
With history, because it’s so vast, I had to kill darlings and keep each historical fact “digestible.” As I said, when combining civics, history, and even architecture, you absolutely must keep it lively, up-tempo, and moving. I discovered when writing “A Capitol Dream” and observed when drafting “A Call To Congress” that my goal is not to write a history book. My goal is and always will be to bring our American stories to life as they are experienced in the Capitol itself.
What was your favorite moment of working on “A Call to Congress” (besides when you finally got to hold it in your hands!)?
EK: My second book, “A Call To Congress,” came together so quickly thanks to the high I was riding from doing press for “A Capitol Dream.” My favorite moment was undoubtedly receiving the confirmation email it was all set for pre-order. When money enters the picture, the legitimate nature of publishing feels “real.”
I’m awaiting this moment right now, actually, as my children’s cookbook, “RandEm Recipes For Beginner Bakers” has been postponed due to COVID’s impact on the publishing community. Once I open my inbox to find that email with written confirmation readers can finally purchase the book, I will exhale.
Then, I’ll continue illustrating my next book!
What’s been the greatest challenge for you as an author and illustrator so far?
EK: Especially as an independent author actively seeking an agent, the greatest challenge lies in the details of my process. The cleanup in illustration. The meticulous copy-editing my manuscript. The quadruple fact-checking of all my information. The communication between me and my publisher.
These all require patience, and I’m notorious for wanting everything to happen at the snap of my fingers. I’ve adopted a mantra Winston Churchill used during World War II, “Action this day,” which has the power to pull you from a rut but really raise your anxiety when you want things to happen fast and happen NOW. Often, these are components of the publishing process out of my control.
Practicing patience and trust in the process are two great challenges I face constantly as I continue to navigate this territory of authorship.
With a whole “Capitol Dream” series in development, can you share what readers can look forward to in future titles?
EK: I’m on a mission to flesh out my “Capitol Dream” series with several new titles about the other extraordinary buildings of Capitol Hill, from the Library of Congress to the Supreme Court. Once those are complete, I have a decision to make: Do I desire to leave Capitol Hill and write about our nation’s executive branch? You see, with stories about the Capitol (Legislative Branch) and the Supreme Court (Judicial Branch) in the books (pun intended), do I continue with our country’s third branch of government so my “Capitol Dream” series follows a cohesive arc?
Now I have time to marinate on this seeing as I’m knee-deep in illustrating my third book about the Library of Congress, “The Library’s Alive!” In tandem with that, I am in the process of editing a children’s web series based on my “Capitol” series called “A Capitol Day.”
This is the new frontier of children’s programming, I believe. “A Capitol Day” will star the main character of my “Capitol” series, Tour Guide Emilie, and it will be a very short, single-camera show for young Capitol Dreamers about our Legislative Branch and Capitol Hill. Thanks to the amazing team at AudioBrew (fellow SCAD alumni!), “A Capitol Day” has a theme song sung and written by myself but significantly enhanced with their composition wizardry.
I mentioned earlier I’m awaiting the delayed release of my children’s cookbook, “RandEm Recipes For Beginner Bakers,” which I created with the incredible help of another SCAD alumna, Antonella Martinez-Gugliotta. She breathed illustrated life into my vision for a cookbook featuring recipes from the files of my two grandmothers, my Nonnie and Yia Yia. In addition to this title, all of the recipes in the book will be shot and edited to exist in the digital space as well. I’m currently filming baking tutorials for my Nonnie’s Irish Soda Bread and my Yia Yia’s Baklava, both of which will be available for viewing on the book’s official website, randemrecipes.com.
For your readers who may be wondering, I refer to my creative alter ego as RandEm, and she’s definitely going to appear in future books!
Now that you have two books published and are planning more, how do you celebrate when you’ve finished a book?
EK: Once you taste the success and pride of publishing, you’re hooked. This drug of holding your book with an honest-to-God ISBN and seeing it sold in bookstores gives me a high I don’t plan to quit as long as I’m of sound mind.
My personal “victory march,” so to speak, consists of sharing what I’ve created physically with local businesses, schools, libraries, and digitally on social media. Celebrating includes creating Facebook and Instagram-specific content about my baby and what makes her special (yes, my books are my babies and of course they’re feminine).
To be honest, though, my favorite way to truly step back and acknowledge, “Wow, I just birthed a book,” is participating in interviews and doing press. As one who has a background in journalism and media management, I love being on the other side of the recorder/camera.
About “A Call to Congress”
Emilie loves sharing the history of the U.S. Capitol Building as a Capitol tour guide, but what she loves even more, is learning from those who lived the history she teaches to constituents of all ages! In “A Call to Congress,” the second in Emilie Kefalas’s “Capitol Dream” series, she unexpectedly meets former Congressman and U.S. President James Madison. What follows is an impromptu tour of the U.S. House and Senate chambers.
This guide introduces young constituents to the functions of the U.S. Legislative Branch and is the perfect companion for any visit to the U.S. Capitol.
About Emilie Kefalas
Emilie Kefalas is a writer, productive daydreamer, and lifelong doodler currently writing her third book in her “Capitol Dream” series, “The Library’s Alive!” She’s also gearing up for the release of her new children’s book, “RandEm Recipes For Beginner Bakers.” More recently, you can find her diligently developing her production company, RandEm Productions, LLC.
All photos are courtesy of Emilie Kefalas.
Note: Emilie is a friend, former colleague and fellow Savannah College of Art and Design alumna. Read more about author interviews and promotions.
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