Author & Illustrator
Emmaline and the Bunny

Katherine Hannigan is the author of Ida B…and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World. She grew up in western New York with a family of humans, several dogs, lots of cats, and some rodents that usually remained caged. She has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and education, and painting, and a graduate degree in studio art. She has worked as an education coordinator for Head Start and, most recently, as an Assistant Professor of Art and Design. She lives in a tiny town in northeast Iowa that’s surrounded by woods and hills and fields. Lulu the cat lives there, too, along with her feline step-brothers and -sisters Mackie, George, and Beezus.

The following is an interview with Katherine.

What inspired you to write Ida B?

When I moved to the Midwest in 2000 to teach at a university there, I fell in love with the place: the space, the hills, the woods, the people who don’t know you but wave anyway as they drive by. With that move, everything changed for me—not just my surroundings, but what I believed was possible. So, on top of the teaching and making art I was doing, I decided I wanted to write a story about a kid who had a life like the one I was living then, but from the very beginning. The story really came out of asking myself one question: What if I wrote about a place where I’d love to live, a family I’d love to be a part of, a child I’d love to hang around with? Writing about that kid, and that family, and that place was one of the best times I’ve ever had.

Did you grow up knowing an Ida B? Are their certain parts of your childhood in Ida B's childhood?

Well, “The Soap Mask” is a true story, and I do have a cat named Lulu. I’ve always loved being outdoors, and I don’t have any problem with talking to trees. But mostly Ida B has the childhood I would have chosen, if I could have. I wish I’d had the confidence, when I was young, to speak my mind more, and to not be embarrassed by the things that made me unique. And now, sometimes I think I try to live up to Ida B’s example: brave and true, full of fun, and fiercely loving.

Throughout the book, Ida B has some very quirky theories about life.  What is your favorite Ida B "ism"?

I have two:

“I believe a good plan is the best way to maximize fun, avoid disaster, and possibly save the world. I spend a lot of my time making them.”

I would subscribe to that philosophy, and admit to that habit.


“… if a child waited to speak until all the grown-ups settled down and gave her some room to say her piece, most important things would never get said.”

I think grown ups sometimes believe the truth has to be complex. But kids often say the truest things, and they’re also the simplest and most direct. That’s why some children’s books, I think, are so powerful—the important things get said.

Nature, especially trees, plays a very important role in Ida B.  How do you incorporate environmental care into your everyday life?

I do little- and medium-sized things to try to tread lightly on the earth—all my light bulbs are compact fluorescents, I turn everything electrical off when I’m not using it, I recycle, I compost all of my organic waste, I walk wherever I can, and I grow some of my own food. But the best and biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of is having Ida B printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, processed chlorine-free. That is just out-of-this-galaxy wonderful.

What is your favorite children's book?

Can I pick more than one? I wished Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 would never end, and I’m awfully fond of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. For little kids, I think Babette Cole is fun and smart and quirky in the best possible way, especially in The Trouble with Mom and Princess Smartypants. Watership Down by Richard Adams isn’t really a children’s book, even though it’s about rabbits, but it’s a wonderful tale for everyone.

Where is your favorite place to curl up with a book?

I have a big chair, like Ida B. When I first moved to Iowa, I bought a giant red chair that easily seats two people. I can even curl up and take a nap in it. That’s where I wrote the first draft of Ida B, and it’s the coziest place to be with a book, a blanket, and a cat or two. It is delicious.

What is the best piece of advice that you would pass on to other writers?

Write the story you’d most like to hear. Writing Ida B was probably the best time I ever had, even on the hard days. If no one else had cared for it, if it had never been published, it still would have been the most fun I’ve had and the best thing I’ve done. And it may just be true that when you put a lot of love into something, other people feel that, and end up loving it, too. Just maybe.