Friday, March 15, 2024

Book Tour: Oakley, Mostly Good by Kristen Grainger @RABTBookTours


Illustrated by Sophie Barlow

Children's Book

Date Published: December 14, 2023

Publisher: MindStir Media


Nothing's been the same ever since Oakley came to live at Mavis' house. Change can be hard, but change can bring good things too.

Interview with Kristen Grainger

Tell me more about your journey as an author, including the writing processes.

I have always been a reader and writer; both feel as necessary to me as breathing. As a young child (the only daughter, three brothers), books were the best refuge from loud and rancorous family dramas. I gobbled up books, books, books until my mother enlisted our local librarian to keep a list of her recommendations to keep me from reading the same ones over and over again. I was a member of two different book-of-the-month clubs for kids at the same time because I powered through the books so fast. To this day, I love and collect children's books (mostly picture books), even though my kids are grown. I love how books smell and feel; walking into the local library or a bookstore in any city immediately puts me in a better mood (especially if there's a store cat). I find the anticipation of a wonderful new book waiting for me at the end of the day or beginning of a weekend both delicious and comforting.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I believe the best writers are those who read like crazy. I started writing poems at age eleven, and was encouraged by a thoughtful teacher to read poetry and keep writing it. I earned a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Washington; my advisor was Northwest transcendentalist poet Nelson Bentley, a gifted teacher and writer. After college, I continued to write and publish poems and experimented with short fiction; my story Death by Drowning, was one of the recipients of The Oregonian's (statewide daily newspaper) Young Writers Fiction Prize. However, I didn't know how to make inroads with the publishing industry in ways that would result in gainful employment, a means of supporting myself through writing. Instead, I worked in political communications and in higher education, working my way up the ladder to executive positions to support my family, pay for college and other necessities. However, it was not much of a creative outlet, so I continued to write poetry and began songwriting for True North, a band I had started with my husband, multi-instrumentalist and luthier Dan Wetzel. I have been a singer and pianist since I was a child, and together, Dan and I have great chemistry; it makes us very productive. I have written more than 50 original songs; nearly all the original material on our seven Americana-bluegrass albums.

Whether I am writing poetry, songs, short fiction, or Oakley, Mostly Good, my first children's book, it always starts with some sort of catalytic notion -- sometimes it's just a short phrase or an image that creates a spark -- that captures my attention and ignites my brain. From there, it's a matter of deciding how to make it "bloom," how to bring it to life. I ask myself these kinds of questions: What do I want to say; to whom am I saying it? Why is this important to capture and share? It doesn't always work. Or rather, it always works, but what results from it isn't always brilliant or transcendent. But sometimes it's pretty good. :)

Tell me about your Book

Oakley, Mostly Good grew out of my experience raising a change-averse child in a world characterized by unprecedented change. In this story suitable for anyone but primarily intended for young children aged 3-7, Oakley is an overgrown puppy joining a family with a long-established cat, Mavis. Mavis has ruled the roost for many years and is unhappy about this change in the family dynamic. Oakley is disruptive, clumsy, and seems untrainable, and she can't escape the chaos that follows in his wake. He is always in her space. Through Sophie Barlow's wonderful illustrations (and a series of commands from family members "off camera"), it's clear the transition from "only cat" to "big sister cat" is not going smoothly. But can good come from this new relationship, eventually?

For a child, the idea of change can sometimes be harder than the change itself. And some kinds of change - a new school, a new sibling, a blended family, loss of a loved one, etc. - can rock a child's world. Oakely, Mostly Good does not offer false reassurances or get too philosophical. Its embedded "lesson" is pretty subtle: if change is inevitable, can one find an upside? Does being open to changes make them easier?

Ideally, whoever is reading this book to a child can engage her/him as they go: "Oh no, what happened? Did he step on Mavis' tail? Now what? He popped the beach ball with his teeth! And the air is blowing in Mavis' face! She doesn't look very happy, does she? What's Oakley doing now? Yes, you're right, he's napping with Mavis and keeping her warm! Are they friends now? Yes! What a good dog!"

It's just a way of showing, with humor and lovable characters, how to be open to changes that might seem very hard at first.

Any message for our readers

In a world of children's books filled with uninspiring computer-generated images, children will love these hand-drawn illustrations telling the story of two vivid characters: Oakley, the goofy dog newcomer and Mavis, the dignified and long-reigning house cat. Their story is quite giggle-worthy. This book is intended to be read aloud and engage children in identifying what's happening in the story page by page, helping them see that change, even when it is unavoidable, isn't always a bad thing.

About the Author

Kristen Grainger is a poet, author and performing songwriter who loves books. She lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest not far from their grown children who also love books.



About the Illustrator

Sophie Barlow is an Illustrator and designer born and raised in Oregon and the Pacific North West.

Sophie earned her degree from the University of Oregon in Art and Technology but has enjoyed working in a range of mediums from digital to physical in her artist practice. In addition to creating art, Sophie loves to hike, bake, and travel whenever she can.


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