Welcome Keila V. Dawson, this month's guest author!



 Interview by Lana Wayne Koehler

Tell us about yourself, Keila.

Thank you so much for allowing me to be a guest on your blog, Lana!

I am a former educator turned children’s author. I’m originally from New Orleans, but I’ve lived in different states across the U.S. and abroad in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. Learning about other cultures and world history has always interested me. I enjoy international travel and genealogical research which also takes me all over the world.

What got you started in writing children’s books?

My journey in writing started when a friend asked about my bucket list and I said I’d always wanted to write a book for kids. I had been a teacher of young children, a picture book collector and then a parent of children, so I’d read a lot of picture books. Writing one is something I had thought about over the years, but I had told no one that before! I believe sharing that dream brought it closer to a reality.

But I didn’t have a story idea, and I knew nothing about writing a book for kids, however saying it out loud made me think of the possibility. And so I questioned why I hadn't tried. 


What was your inspiration for The King Cake Baby and Opening the Road? 

I think allowing myself to think I could write a book opened my mind to ideas about what would make a good story. One day while baking a king cake during the Carnival season, I reached inside my kitchen drawer to get one of a little plastic baby from my a collection that I’ve found in king cakes over the years to hide inside the cake. But I couldn’t find them. And I said something like, “Where’d my babies run off to?” And in that moment, I knew that was the story idea I had been waiting for. That night I wrote my first draft of The King Cake Baby as a runaway tale based on the Gingerbread Man tale, but told Louisiana style!






For Opening the Road, I listened to a BBC radio program about the postal worker who wrote guides for Black Americans used to travel safely during legal segregation and wanted to know more. The research for this book had me learning many things I didn’t learn in school. And it shows the importance of having quality children’s nonfiction trade books available for young readers.



How did you happen to get together with your co-authors/editors on your No World Too Big and No Voice Too Small books?


Lindsay, Jeanette, and I were part of a Facebook group for the Kidlit Women. Jeanette posted about an idea to write a book that featured young activists. I replied, along with others with ideas of who I’d put in such a book. Lindsay had had a similar idea about writing about young changemakers and had started a list, so she contacted Jeanette. They shared the same agent who liked the idea, but she thought it was a big project and advised them to add a third person. And there were a lot of moving parts writing the proposal, finding youth to feature, seeking permissions, and reaching out to poets. Lindsay contacted me and I was thrilled to commit to the project. We chose biographical poems because poetry carries a lot of emotion and is often used as a vehicle for social change. When Karen Boss expressed interest in our proposal, we knew Charlesbridge was the perfect publisher for this book. And we worked so well together that before NO VOICE TOO SMALL released, we were already thinking about a companion title.



We focused NO WORLD TOO BIG on climate change because kids are anxious about their futures. And there are kids all around the world giving them hope because they are taking action and searching for solutions to ease the effects of global warming.



Any new projects in the works?

Yes! In 2024, YUMBO GUMBO will be released with Charlesbridge as part of their Storytelling Math Series. It's an intergenerational story with a side of sibling rivalry about making gumbo and how the main character uses mathematical reasoning to solve the problem. I am excited to share another story about my Louisiana culture. YUMBO!


 Short and Sweet:

 Pantser or Plotter?

 Panster until research forces me to plot and plan!

 Guilty Food Pleasure?

 See’s Candies (And king cake that I only eat during Carnival season!)

 Favorite Hobby?


 Cat or Dog Person?

 Cat. I’ve also had dogs and love that they love unconditionally, but I adore how cats are so unpredictable and independent.

 Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?

 My great-grandparents! I found the ship’s manifest with my great-grandfather, my very pregnant great-grandmother, my 5-year-old grandfather, and his older siblings moving to the U.S from Central America with 3 trunks, 1 Valise of Books, Bedding, and a baby carriage. What books were in that suitcase?

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening?



Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, educator, and advocate for children with disabilities before becoming a children’s book author. She writes fiction and nonfiction picture books. She is coeditor of No World Too Big, Young People Fighting Global Climate Change, and No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History. Dawson is the author of Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, The King Cake Baby and the forthcoming Yumbo Gumbo.


Awards and honors for her books include an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, a NCSS and NCTE Notable, Kirkus Best Book, Chicago Public Library Best Book, New York Public Library Best Book, Bank Street Best Book, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum's Noteworthy Book, a two-time Ohioana finalist, Jane Addams finalist, a 2023 Charlotte Award and 2023-24 Louisiana Readers' Choice Award nominee.


A New Orleans native, Dawson has also lived and worked in different states across the U.S., and abroad in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. When she isn’t reading, writing, and visiting schools, she’s traveling, playing tennis, or digging in genealogical archives. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or her website.