I just returned from Rio where I presented for two days at the American School of Rio de Janeiro. It was excellent.


We celebrated both National Poetry Month and International Children’s Book Day with poetry workshops and Writer’s Life presentations. It was a full two days, but full of fun and learning and celebration. Those EARJ students know how to throw a celebration! Also, they figured out how old I am. (I think this was planned because one kid asked me how old I was when I published my first book and another asked me how long it had been since I published my first book. 33 and 12, respectively. 🙂

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved visiting these smart kids and their superstar teachers. Can I go back soon?

And now, I’m a few days late but I’ll kick off National Poetry Month with “Recipe for a Poem” which was originally published in the Poetry Friday Anthology put out by Pomelo Books. Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong at Pomelo are putting out some of the most fun and exciting poetry anthologies for children of late and are making them very accessible to teachers with activities and hands-on tips. Be sure to check out their site.

Recipe for A Poem

by Kristy Dempsey

Fill a pot
with red-hot thought.
Boil a bit,
Let sit.
Wait . . .
some more.
Open a drawer,
pick a spoon,
a hammer,
a kite,
anything might
be of use.
Weigh the contents.
Stir the depths.
Season with truth and
a dash of laughter.
Stretch like taffy,
Slice into bites.
Throw to the wind
and listen.


I’ve been spinning lately with such good news about A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT that I am literally seeing stars! This book has been such a privilege to be part of from the very beginning and the fact that others see value in this book is a great honor indeed.

At the beginning of March, A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT was named the winner of the Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text! I will go to California in August to receive the award and to present at the SCBWI Annual Conference in Los Angeles.


There are three other categories for this award, as well:

Golden Kite for Non-Fiction: Candace Fleming for THE FAMILY ROMANOV
Golden Kite for Fiction: Deborah Wiles for REVOLUTION
Golden Kite for Picture Book Illustration: Melissa Sweet for THE RIGHT WORD: ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS

Be sure to check out the honor winners, as well as the winner of the Sid Fleischman award for Humor by clicking here!

Also, A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT has been named to the 2015 CCBC Choices list and to the 2015 Bank Street Best Books of the Year list!

You can check out the rest of the books named to those lists here:

Both lists help me tremendously in planning my library purchases each year.

For my Mama


Eleven years ago I set out to write A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT that honored one of the African American pioneers in ballet, Janet Collins. But as I wrote this story about a little girl who sees Miss Collins’s performance, and as a result believes her own dreams can come true, I was also drawn to the mother in the background of the story who has not achieved great status, but who has worked hard every day of her life to provide the simple necessities her daughter needs. To me, one of the most important threads in this story is the mother’s sacrifice, because it reflects her love and selflessness in fostering her child’s dreams, allowing her to believe she can achieve something that might seem out of reach. This is one element in the story that, for me, reaches across culture and race and reflects an emotional truth that isn’t limited by the color of our skin. Certainly there are mothers who do not embody this kind of belief in their children, but there are mothers across the world, of every culture, that do and whose children point back to that belief as a guiding force in their lives.

A recent reviewer of A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT pointed out that the book never shows whether the little girl in my story achieves her dreams. (In my heart I responded, “Well, the reader is smart enough to figure out what they think about that themselves!) But for me, leaving the story open-ended provides a poignant sense of possibility. Both Janet Collins and the mother in this story are heroes who accomplish great things for this little girl. We are shaped by what we witness, whether it’s a performance that allows us to believe we can achieve something beyond what society expects of us, or it’s the consistent, quiet, daily example of a mother who is determined to give her child a foundation that will allow her opportunities she might not have dreamed possible. It is not important to know whether the little girl achieves the dream she had in that moment. Her dreams will grow and possibly change. She may actually grow up to dream a different dream. But from her mother she has seen that dreams are valuable and from Janet Collins she has seen that they are possible. Whatever her dream becomes, she can believe it true.

Of course, I ultimately realized that my emotional connection to this little girl’s dreams and the hard work of her mother reflected my own mother and my own dreams, and the way my mother dreamed along with me, even when my aspirations seemed (and proved) impossible. A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT is dedicated to my mother:

To my own mama, who dreamed every dream I ever had right along with me. 

From dreaming to become a Olympian gymnast, to dreaming to be a recording artist, to dreaming to perform on Broadway, to dreaming . . . well, so many different things. All those dreams I dreamed as a child? I never accomplished many of them. I worked hard for many years on some of them. My mother supported and invested and believed. But her involvement in my dreams taught me that it didn’t matter whether I accomplished them or not. What mattered was who I was becoming and that learning to dream beyond myself and what I could accomplish would teach me who I am and who I should be. Learning to dream beyond myself would not only change me, but could change the world around me.

I’m still dreaming. I’m still learning who I should be. That’s the way dreams are. As we grow, they grow. But this dreamer that I continue to be today, I owe to my mother. If my dreams allow me to change the world in any way, it’s my mama’s belief in me and example to me that made it possible.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. Thank you for teaching me to dream.

Calling All Schools!

One of my favorite parts of being a children’s author is the opportunity I get to present in schools and work directly with students. I’m planning to be in the US in October 2014 and have 3 open dates (October 13, 14 &15) during which I would be available for presentations in schools.


Bio:   Kristy Dempsey is a children’s author and the librarian at the American School of Belo Horizonte. Her books include ME WITH YOU (Philomel), MINI RACER (Bloomsbury), SURFER CHICK (Abrams) and A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT (Philomel). She is an experienced presenter to all age groups and often does writing workshops with elementary, middle and high school students. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including the recent Poetry Friday Anthologies which help teachers connect poetry across the curriculum. Her visual literacy presentations support both Common Core and International Baccalaureate standards and provide both students and teachers with the tools they need to deepen inquiry in the classroom. Originally from South Carolina, United States, she has lived in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, since 1998.

Here are some comments from my recent school visits:

  • “Kristy is really good with kids. The perfect balance between expectation, positive tension, and humor.
  • “Kristy did an excellent job with my sixth grade students. She spoke at their level. She talked with my students about narrative writing that was very relevant to what we were doing at that time. It fit right into what I wanted them to learn. I only wish we could have had her visit for more than one period so she could teach them even more.”
  • Kristy relates so well to all ages of  students. She adapts the components of her presentations to entertain and teach the age of the students to whom she is presenting. In these days of school budget restraints and cutbacks, it’s even more important that dollars earmarked for providing guest speakers to our students are wisely spent. Having Kristy present to your students is an investment that you and your students will be delighted that you made.
  • “Several of my students commented that her explanation of setting strengthened their writing!”
  • “Kristy Dempsey’s presentation was engaging and fun. Her emphasis on where stories come from and how books are published was clear and interesting for students. They all really enjoyed it!”
  • “This was a truly outstanding presentation. Ms. Dempsey related well to students and really engaged the entire audience with humor and participation. Content was both practical and inspiring to our young student writers.”

For descriptions of each of the sessions I offer, both for students and for teachers as professional development,  as well as information on fees, please see my School Visits page.

The Tenderness of Hope

Image                   Image

Yes, these feathers were sketched by me. Is this where I’m supposed to put the © 2014 Kristy Dempsey?

Feathers. They’re tender and wispy. Pretty much how I feel about my artistic ability. I can sketch single feathers on a flat surface. (Or suspended in mid-air if you want to pretend that I might be capable of being intentional about that.) That’s it. That’s all I can draw beyond stick figures.

Don’t get me wrong. There is something I LOVE about feathers. They’re like snowflakes, each unique (but so much easier to draw because they’re not all geometrically symmetrical like snowflakes.) You almost can’t mess them up because they don’t have to be perfect. And mine never are.

But I can’t stop sketching them. They represent something to me. Maybe it’s the tenderness of hope that can be lifted by just the breath of a kind word. Maybe it’s their beautiful imperfection. Maybe it’s their reminder of new life, the tiny fuzzy hope that will one day spread its wings and fly.

On this beautiful Easter weekend, this is my offering of hope to you: that wherever you are feeling tender and incapable, may the promise of new life breathe hope beneath the imperfection and give you the faith to believe.

Highlights Unworkshop Scholarship Winner

ImagePhoto credit: Highlights Foundation


Whoo-boy, dear applicants. This was a difficult decision. Do you realize just how talented you people are? And dedicated? And hardworking? And did I say talented? Because you people are talented in double doses. Our retreat group wanted to give everyone a scholarship to attend a Highlights Foundation Unworkshop at Boyds Mills in PA.

When we set out to choose a writer to receive a 5 night stay at an Unworkshop, we hoped to be able to provide a dedicated writer with the time and space needed to complete or revise a work-in-progress. Each of us in our retreat group are working writers, many of us teachers and parents and volunteers. As we read your entries, we were struck by your perseverance, your incredible story ideas and how many of you write in the early mornings (just like many of us!)

In the end we could only give the scholarship to one writer and we chose Katie Mitschelen. Katie has been writing for several years, gives of her time to other writers, takes care of her family and her ailing father and, like many of us, just needs dedicated time to focus on her Depression era historical fiction middle grade fantasy novel. Yes. All that at once. And she still hooked us. 🙂 Congratulations, Katie! We hope to share more soon about you and your experience at the Unworkshop retreat.

My Favorite Book



Come along, old friend.
Let’s walk your road again.
I know each bend,
each rise
and fall.
I know it all, yet
every time you show me more
a twisted root
a hidden door
a sheltered nook
I’ve passed but never seen before.

Let’s run your road, this well-worn path.
We’ll kick up dust,
and later when I stop to rest,

I’ll feel your breath upon my back
press me

                                                                                      The End.

Highlights Unkworkshop Scholarship



In 2008, several children’s writers joined together for a retreat in Boyds Mills, PA, the home of Highlights Magazine and the wonderful Highlights Foundation. We were all working on different stories in different genres, and so we planned a working retreat, not one where we would meet often to learn from a speaker, but one that would allow us the time we needed todive deep into our stories and come up for air when we needed it. As it turned out, we usually came up for air about 4:00 pm every day, meeting together to share not only what we had written, but also a few tears and a lot of laughter.

The time we spent alone writing and the time we spent together encouraging one another was important for the stories we were working on at the time and to prepare us for the stories we would work on after our retreat at Boyds Mills. It was so important for us that we want to provide the same opportunity for another writer. The Highlights Foundation is offering Unworkshops during various dates throughout 2014. Consider it time to get away and write what your heart most wants to work on. We can’t work it out for any of us to go back right now, so we’re sending one of you!

If you are a sincere and dedicated writer who could use this focused time, our retreat group is offering 5 night’s stay at a Highlights Foundation Unworkshop, daily writing prompts/encouragement from the members of our retreat group (picture book, non-fiction, middle grade and young adult authors) for the length of your workshop and hopefully even a Skype gab session with one or more of us during your Unworkshop (depending on dates and availability.) (You would be responsible for your own transportation to Boyds Mills.)

To qualify for consideration for this prize, send a statement by March 31, 2014 (to explaining why this retreat could be important to you as a writer/illustrator of children’s literature. Share a little about the project you would plan to work on during the retreat and your experience writing or illustrating for children. We’ll consider all entries and announce the recipient on April 15, 2014.

Happy Writing!

Loree Griffin Burns
Kristy Dempsey
Katy Traffanstedt Duffield
Kathy Erskine
Alma Fullerton
Sara Lewis Holmes
Anne Marie Pace
Tanya Goulette Seale
Linda Urban
Cassandra Reigel Whetstone