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Q&A with Kelly J. Baptist

Q&A with Kelly J. Baptist

Kelly J. Baptist is the author of several works for young readers. Her published works include the middle-grade novels The Swag is in the Socks, Eb & Flow and the Isaiah Dunn series. She won the 2015 We Need Diverse Books short story contest with her story, The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn. In 2022, she won the Sunshine State Young Reader Award for her grade K–2 picture book, The Electric Slide and Kai. On Monday, April 10, 2 p.m., Kelly will be visiting Alafaya Branch as part of the library’s Sunshine State Author Series to host an interactive presentation, storytime and Q&A session in celebration of The Electric Slide and Kai.

Congratulations on all your success with The Electric Slide and Kai! What inspired you to want to write your very first picture book?

Thank you! My middle daughter inspired this story. When she was about four, we attended my cousin’s wedding and reception. My cousin had married an AKA (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc) so she and all her fellow sorors were on the dance floor strolling! So cool! My daughter was off to the side trying to copy their every move and it was super cute! I got the idea of a girl trying to learn a dance before her aunt’s wedding, and what better dance to learn than The Electric Slide! Also, yes, you read that right … in the original story, the main character, Cai, was a girl! My daughter’s name is Micaiah, and that’s her nickname. My editor asked if I would mind changing to a boy because we often don’t see that image of Black boys. I agreed!

What inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve been writing since I learned how to write! I think the love of story was my inspiration. My parents read to me from a young age and we always took trips to the library. The freedom and power of creating my own adventures and experiences was what drew me to writing.

What are some of your favorite children’s authors or books?

Mildred D. Taylor and Walter Dean Myers were my favorite authors growing up, and I devoured all of their work. I also enjoyed reading the Encyclopedia Brown series and the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

Why do you write books for young readers specifically?

Because young readers are the best audience ever! They’re exciting and open and honest and their sense of the world has not yet been tainted. I think I write for that part of me that’s the same way. There’s so much joy in writing for a young audience, and interacting with them provides an endless well of inspiration and appreciation. I began writing for young people after reading my oldest daughter If You Give a Mouse A Cookie for the HUNDREDTH time! I wanted to write stories that other parents and kids could enjoy over and over.

Do you and your family members have “dance nicknames” for each other, like Kai’s family in the book?

Ironically, we don’t! My kids have nicknames, but not pertaining to dance. We do have epic dance parties, though! Do you have a favorite dance move? I actually really like The Electric Slide! Most of my dancing isn’t any move in particular, I just do what I feel! Isn’t that the best part of dancing anyway?

What kind of music would you play to get the party started?

We are a musically eclectic family! We play Gospel, R&B, Pop, Reggae, Afrobeats, Country, Disney soundtracks and original tracks created by my musical kids!