Courage Hats by Kate Hoefler and Jessixa Bagley

Hello, Kate Hoefler! Hello, Jessixa Bagley!





Oh, my heart!

Courage Hats is so beautiful, so profound, so much fun to read aloud slowly and thoughtfully. I love it so! I want to gift a copy to many people!

Jessixa, please tell everyone about the moment you captured on the cover.

Jessixa Bagley: It was exciting to figure out how to pull people into this story. But the cover was a little tricky at first. The title of the book is so engaging and is also little mysterious, so we weren’t sure at first if we should keep the hats a visual secret until you got into the book. We ultimately decided showing the hats would make the reader want to pick up the book and discover why these silly hats were on these sweet characters! The train is like the third character in the book, so we knew we wanted to show Mae (the girl) and Bear (the…bear) having lots of fun together on the train. That visual of Mae and Bear with their hands on the window, sharing and seeing exciting new things together felt full of magical joy that I think Kate was going for in the text.

Kate, what planted the seed for Courage Hats?

Kate Hoefler: I was scared. Something otherwise thrilling had happened: I had been surprised with the 2018 Little Shop of Stories Focus Fellowship at AIR SFI (formally known as AIR SERENBE)−a wonderful gift allowing me to go to a wooded pocket of Georgia, stay in a lovely little house for weeks, and focus on writing. Too good to be true, right?

But…I was scared. (Grateful and scared). 1) Believe it or not, I had never taken a trip to a new place on my own (and I have no sense of direction). I had never done an 11-hour drive solo through multiple states. 2) Jason Reynolds was going to be my neighbor while I was there (who ended up being the warmest, most dynamic, most emotionally intelligent conversationist EVER−not a surprise to anyone), but knowing THAT beforehand−and holding him in such high regard…well, I wondered if I was “good enough” to be there. I wondered if I deserved it. If I “belonged.” So…just a lot of shaky ground in my chest.

The end of this “I was scared” story is that I loved my stay. It was one of the best experiences that I have had as a writer and as a person. I met fantastic people, hiked wonderful trails, and wrote. Everyone made me feel like I belonged. I became intimate friends with both the unknown and with what it means to find beauty there. The only way over fear is through it, as folks say. But I realized that it’s okay to not have all the courage you think you need up front. Courage grows. And while “belonging” can be a gift we give to others, maybe it’s also one we have to equally give to ourselves. So, with the Georgia woods all around me (and hiking, wondering about bears), I naturally began to write a story about a girl (afraid of bears), a bear (afraid of people), and a shared train ride between them into the unknown−with all of the rewards that can be found there.

Jessixa, please finish the following sentence starters:

Kate Hoefler’s manuscript for Courage Hats was delicate yet strong and full of deep heartfelt moments. It’s such a lovely book about friendship and how you can make friends in unexpected places if you find little courage, which is a good reminder for us all! Kate has such a perfect way with words, I immediately connected to the sensitive tone of the story. And, oh gosh, I LOVE trains!!! I have always loved toy trains, mysteries that take place on trains, and of course riding trains! The chance to illustrate a book about a girl and a bear meeting on a train was really a dream project. From the first moment I read the manuscript, it felt warm and full of love and hope. It came along right when I needed those very things. Kate really did a masterful job of saying so many big things in small ways- that’s my favorite sort of writing. I feel lucky that I got to bring her beautiful and fun story to life with my pictures in a way that I never have before.

Courage is hard. We are surrounded by self-doubt and experiences that test who we are as a person. But if you can find just a little bit of strength inside of you, you’ll find that it grows- especially when you can find someone who believes in you. It’s like they are giving you some of their own courage to make you stronger.

Kate, please finish the following sentence starters: 

Jessixa Bagley’s illustrations are endearing, funny, and incredibly moving all at once. She’s created such a distinct and dreamy world here−a world where you’re melted by Bear and Mae…but then you’ll also see a Moose reading a newspaper that makes you laugh. She juggles the heart. She is so generous with every world, with every character she creates, giving them such credible lives unto themselves. My heart got on that train when she first began working on it and never got off. She really solved so many tricky problems with the manuscript as well by creating a space where animals and people might regularly share a train and habitually share space−and she does it in a way that is a tightrope walk between the magical and the real (gorgeous representations of the real that allow children to see themselves in it). And it’s organic. It’s seamless here.

I’ve always found Jessixa’s work to be so emotionally authentic−and she brought that authenticity to this story in ways I could have never imagined. In many ways, the story could have been reduced to a mere comedy of errors, but Jessixa renders Mae and Bear in a way that makes everyone care deeply about their predicament. They’re not some slapstick joke to a reader. They’re two beings warming up to the unknown via tiny steps, an honest (joyous) progression.

Oh! And her illustrations gave me an immense sense of travel. The light, the dark, the landscapes swirling by, aerial views, birds flying, reflections on glass…You get to the end of the book, and you know you were in those train seats too. You’ve been to deep bear places and deep people places. You’re both Mae and Bear. You’ve gone somewhere. (Thank you, Jessixa).

Story is how we know we’re not alone. I think it’s the greatest connector that allows lives to overlap. We not only recognize a deep part of ourselves and others in stories, but we share stories−stories are communal−and when we share them, we’re inviting others to feel the same deep way we felt in our chests. We’re inviting others to recognize themselves too. A story is a bid for connection.

I think a story is also a powerful re-set button. There’s so much beauty we miss about being alive when we don’t pay attention to the world or to each other−and I think stories help make up for that deficit−that inattention. Stories redirect us. They refocus us. They place us firmly on shared ground (or a shared train seat), and it’s as if we wake up again to some crucial part of being alive that maybe we had forgotten that day or that minute.

And from a maker’s standpoint−oh, it’s so vulnerable to write. So vulnerable. Making a story, itself, is courage. A story is courage.

Thank you, Kate and Jessixa! 

Kate Hoefler received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan, where she studied as a Colby Fellow. She is the author of Rabbit and The Motorbike, Real Cowboys, and Great Big Things. She lives in a quiet village in Ohio where she can hear the distant sounds of the highway.

Jessixa Bagley grew up in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, where she developed a love of hamburgers, drawing, and anthropomorphic food. Her books have won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, multiple Junior Library Guild selections, and an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor, among many other awards. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Look for Courage Hats on April 5, 2022. 


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