Golden Kite Awards in Los Angeles!


Back in March, I found out that A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT (illustrated by Floyd Cooper) had won the Golden Kite Award for Picture Book text from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The ceremony was held August 2, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Century City during the annual conference of the SCBWI. There were several things that combined to make this the most exciting trip ever:

  1. I had never been to California.
  2. I have only been to two writing conferences (and a couple of writing retreats.)
  3. There were over 1200 people in attendance.
  4. I had to give a speech. (Gulp!)

This is what the room looked like for the luncheon.


The most memorable thing about the luncheon to me is that the writers who were presented awards in other categories are all writers I have admired for so long. I felt gobsmacked to be mentioned in the same ceremony with these children’s book professionals:

Golden Kite for Non-fiction: Candace Fleming for The Family Romanov
Candace joked that she wondered who would be interested in a book about Russian History, but you guys, this book is fascinating, GRIPPING history. Also, Candace writes everything well. She’s the author of some of my favorite picture books!

Golden Kite for Fiction: Deborah Wiles for Revolution
With this National Book Award finalist, Deborah has written another documentary novel that transports and engages. I couldn’t put this one down. Also, Deborah will forever be near and dear to my heart because she came to one of my first book signings for my very first book, even when she had never met me before. It meant — and still means — so much to me.

Golden Kite for Illustration: Melissa Sweet for The Right Word
I have loved every book Melissa has ever illustrated. I often take them off the shelf in my library and stare at the illustrations, trying think about how she made them and wondering if I could paint anything in her style (I can’t. Yet.) But it was Melissa’s illustrations that motivated me to take a drawing class this past year and to work on some hand-lettering. I don’t expect to ever be an illustrator, but Melissa’s illustrations are vast enough to swim in creatively and that’s enough for me!

Sid Fleischman Award for Humor: Michelle Knudsen for Evil Librarian
Michelle is another writing hero of mine who seems to write everything well! She is the author of one of my all-time favorite picture books, Library Lion, and Evil Librarian, a young adult novel, promises to be hilarious. I’m sad to say I haven’t read this one yet, because it’s on my next library order, but I just received an email yesterday that it shipped! So, this one will be in my TBR stack soon!

When it came time for me to give my speech, I was already in tears walking up to the stage. I bit my tongue a bit to try to pull myself together. There have been some quotes from my speech posted on Twitter and Facebook as part of promotion of the conference on social media. I thought I’d share a few bits from my speech here that are important to me as well:

“I am thankful to my children and especially my husband Demps whose very life reminds me that deep joy is only found in fulfilling our purpose. Thank you for recognizing that I feel God’s pleasure when I write. Thank you for understanding me, often even better than I understand myself…”

“…I think I write to discover my own empathy, or more honestly perhaps, to work toward it, and in some ways I have that same hope for my readers. As a librarian it is one of the things I want my students to find in books, be it empathy for their own situations or empathy for and a deeper understanding of others. I want to enter in myself and both bring others with me and take others by the hand once I’m there.”

“As I was flying over LA on Thursday, vast city stretching as far as I could see, I thought about all the hopes and dreams held within just one city block, within each city block of every city, every town, every village of this world. It stops me in my tracks. My heart feels the weight of those hopes and dreams. I thought about how fragile those hopes and dreams are and how even on our very best days we still just need enough joy and hope to believe we can become who we’re meant to become…”

“…Our readers are the ones who take our ideas and run with them, tugging and taking them higher than we could on our own.”

It was a day full of joy and gratitude and tears and I am forever grateful to have shared it.


The day ended with a book signing and I shared a signing table with rock star illustrator Peter Brown! Whoo-hoo! I didn’t think lightning struck the same person twice in one day?!




Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to see sketches and make comments on two of my books that will be out in 2016, SUPERHERO INSTRUCTION MANUAL (Knopf), illustrated by Mark Fearing, and A HOP IS UP (Bloomsbury), illustrated by Lori Richmond.

You guys, I’m pretty sure I’ve won the luck lottery. These illustrators are fantastic. These books are going to be amazing. I am so anxious to share these books with children. I wish 2016 were NOW! And here’s a secret: both books have a dog! And no spoilers or anything, but NEITHER book is the kind of book where the dog dies. Whew!

So since my brain has been so dog-focused lately because of the adorableness (Is that a word? It should be a word.) of the dogs in these two forthcoming picture books, I thought I’d share one of my favorite dog-centric poetry books.


Once I Ate a Pie
by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest

In this book you will meet 13 dogs with distinct personalities. Puppy is new and worried. Mr. Beefy is always hungry. (Once he even ate a whole pie.) Sugar just loves to sleep. (Unless the cat is around and then she loves to chase.)

These are just some of the sweet faces you’ll meet in ONCE I ATE A PIE. And maybe you’ll be inspired to write some dog poetry of your own. I know I was:

Outside Dog at Suppertime
by Kristy Dempsey


if I scrunch my nose
a bit more
against this glass door,

you’ll hear my whimper.

            Must I wail?

Maybe a knock with my tail?

No need for a plate.

I’d settle for scraps.



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.