Instructor Stories: Kathryn Otoshi

Instructor Photo: Kathryn Otoshi


We are thrilled to have Kathryn Otoshi teaching our Storytelling and Symbolism intensive this month.

Kathryn Otoshi is a bit of a unicorn. She's an author, illustrator, graphic designer, and publisher—all wrapped into one. On her website, she states that her mission “is to introduce young readers to big issues through the power of reading and literature.” To this end, she founded KO Kid's Books and Blue Dot Press.

Kathryn’s Books

Kathryn draws on difficult experiences in her own life as inspiration for her books, which include: One, Two, Zero, Beautiful Hands, Simon and the Sock Monster, What Emily Saw, and Draw the Line.

Storytelling and Symbolism with Kathryn Otoshi

You've probably heard that you don't want to write “preachy” or “didactic” stories. Kids don't like it when we write down to them to teach them a lesson. Actually, adults who work with kids don't like it, either. They know that kids are smart. And “preachy” stories aren't any fun to read.

However, as a writer for children, you might have certain themes or messages that you'd like to share with children. You may have noticed that a lot of books for children that sell well have messages. If you look at those stories closely, you'll often find the message isn't stated directly. Symbolism and metaphor make those stories more fun. 

Kathryn uses symbolism and visual cues to tell stories inspired by challenges from her life: watching a new student get bullied, a friend dying of cancer, a fight with her father. If she could turn those experiences into stories that kids want to read, then it's worth taking a look at how we can use symbolism to tell our own stories. Right?

This is also a selling point for school visits. For example, Beautiful Hands was inspired by Kathryn's friend Bret Baumgarten's question, “What will your beautiful hands do today?” When she visits schools, the children would make handprints with their names on them and promise to do something kind for someone every day. And then she builds wire-frame birds with the handprints for feathers to give to the schools.

Isn't that amazing? 

In Kathryn's 90-minute intensive, you'll learn how to create powerful, kid-relatable stories through symbolism. Each of Kathryn's five lessons will have an exercise to help you implement what you've been learning. The intensive also includes a live workshop (TBA), where you can ask any questions you might have.

You can register for Kathryn Otoshi’s intensive HERE.

Book Giveaway Details

I’m giving away one of Kathryn’s books. To enter, just let me know which book you’d like to win in the comments by midnight on September 20. You don’t have to buy the intensive or be a student. If you don’t live in the States, just make sure it’s something that Book Depository carries, and you’re also welcome to enter.

Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment.

Thank you for reading!

Blog Contributors

Instructor Photo: Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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32 thoughts on “Instructor Stories: Kathryn Otoshi”

  1. I really am digging Kathryn’s intensive. At first I was a little unsure about how the exercises would come together, but it really coming at an idea sideways. If I had started out trying to make the idea directly, it would have come off so stiff/didactic, but thinking abstractly has been a real blast.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone makes based of KO’s intensive for sure. I would like to read any of the numbered books.

    PS: I posted this to Twitter:

  2. Yep, it would be Draw The Line for me too. I love the depth and connections in her books. And her intensive is challenging but super insightful.

  3. So funny this came up today. I just started the intensive. I love that it is writing and drawing. If I win,I would love Beautiful Hands. Now, off to share on social media.

  4. Chrystal Creswell

    The intensive has been eye opening and is helping me see my art in new ways. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to learn from Kathryn through Story Teller Academy. The book I’d love is Beautiful Hands.

  5. What a creative lady! Interesting post also. I would love to win “Simon and the Sock Monster”. Thanks for the chance to win one of her amazing books.

  6. I would like to receive a copy of “What Emily Saw” if I’d win. The intensive sounds interesting and I’ll check it out. Thanks for the opportunity to win! I’ll share the post too!

  7. Making the children’s hands into birds is such a beautiful way to reinforce the message in her story. I would love to win a copy of her book One.

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