Niles Public Library hosted its Battle of the Books Awards Ceremony Friday night, Feb. 7, with help from the author of Kimchi and Calamari and Rocky Road: Rose Kent, ex-naval officer, Kraft Foods employee, and business writer turned bestselling children’s author.
Not the usual career path (if there is such a thing). Anyway, it all started in the third grade when a teacher, impressed by a poem Rose Kent had written, told her, “You know, Rose, you are a writer.” She didn’t especially believe it, and didn’t actively pursue that vocation for a couple of decades, but it made an impression.
It came as no surprise to her mother when the third grader raced home: “She just asked me, ‘Who do think has been using all that loose leaf paper?,’” said Kent. A self-professed “freckle-faced, shy kid at school,” Kent would come home, grab handfuls of paper, and start writing. Her stories featured bold characters (not like the shy person she felt herself to be) having amazing adventures all over the world. “It was my way of making sense of things,” she says.
Battle book Kimchi and Calamari focuses on a Korean boy adopted by Italian-American parents. Where on earth did that idea come from? Turns out that, after having two birth children, Kent and her husband adopted a boy and a girl from South Korea. “The main character, Joseph, is not my younger son,” Kent says emphatically, “but his situation, transitioning between cultures, gave me the idea.”
Writing the first draft of a book takes her about a year and demands nerves of steel: Kimchi and Calamari received 25 publisher rejections before it was picked up. (“It gets better,” she assured the audience. “The second book, Rocky Road, was only rejected twice before publication.”) What becomes of her just-completed third manuscript, Wish Upon a Mom, remains to be seen. Making edits to a first draft seems to average about eight months, Kent finds.
The audience consisted mainly of Battle contestants (from Stevenson School’s 2013 winning team and competitors Nelson, Culver and St. John Brebeuf) as well as their parents. Virtually spellbound by her talk, dozens of students (and aspiring future authors) lined up afterwards to have Kent sign their copies of the books. Gracious to a fault, Kent spoke encouragingly to all, learned their names, and seemed to mesmerize them even more.
Anyone wanting to learn more about the author can easily do so at rosekent.com. Among other things, the website features the Korean athlete who inspires Kimchi and Calamari’s Joseph: Sohn Kee-chung, a national hero overcome with sorrow when his 1936 Olympic gold medal (the marathon) principally benefitted his country’s occupiers, the Japanese (whose flag was raised and whose anthem was played). In addition to having strong characters and interesting plots, it seems, Kent’s books open windows on people’s life stories and, in Kimchi and Calamari, a country’s history.