DECATUR — Seven-year-old Ramona Smith is an eager reader.
So meeting a real-life author was exciting to the second-grader. “I think it’s pretty cool,” she said.
On Monday, Ramona and her 5-year-old sister, Olive, of Decatur, were given a special introduction to children’s author and Decatur native Emilie Kefalas at Kenny's Ace Hardware, where copies of the books are sold.
The Smith sisters will attend Holy Family Catholic School in the fall, the school Kefalas attended as a child. The older Smith sibling is able to read the books to the younger sister.
“We read tiny books,” Ramona said.
“But I’m practicing,” Olive chimed in.
Kefalas is a writer and illustrator of the children’s books "A Capitol Dream," and her latest edition, "A Call to Congress."
The subjects of each book are the White House and U.S. Congress, written for early grade school students.
“That’s the whole idea. It's to introduce them,” said Gini Smith, the Smith girls’ grandmother.
Ramona came prepared to interview the author. She had written down questions such as, “How did you know how to write a book?”
“What I did was read a lot of my favorite books to get an idea of how stories flow, what engaged me the most, and what I liked to read,” Kefalas answered. “I asked a lot of people I trust, like my teachers and some mentors of mine, what they thought of the book.”
And, Ramona asked, “Where did you learn to make the pictures?”
Kefalas admitted she drew in her math notebooks when she was a student. “But I also paid attention,” she said.
The stories are about a tour guide who works at the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., a job Kefalas had six years ago while she was working as a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis.
“That was one of my favorite jobs,” she said. “I got to share history. I got to tell stories basically of all these things that happened in the building. To see kids' eyes light up when you are there, it’s just so magical. The energy was infectious.”
Kafalas explained to the Smith sisters the importance of the book's subject.
“That’s where our country’s laws are made,” she said. “These books are for students, Capitol dreamers like yourself, as an introduction to what happens in our nation’s capital, what history has been made there and what history will be made there.”
The young ladies talked with Kefalas, 25, about their favorite subjects, which included art. “I loved doodling when I was your age,” Kefalas said. “That’s why I chose to illustrate these books myself.”
The art, which features the intricate details of landmark Washington, D.C. buildings, was a challenge, Kefalas said. “I want to make sure that I represent the place as well as I can,” she said.
The author pointed out her favorite pages of the books, including the Statue of Freedom. “You want to make sure you get the sense of her majesty as if you’re there yourself,” Kefalas said.
Meeting with the Smith siblings is a rare opportunity for the author in the coronavirus age. When schools were still in session, Kefalas visited classrooms at least once a month. “Given the social circumstances, it hasn’t happened as often,” she said. ”I’m grateful to be spending some time with Olive and Ramona today.”
Kefalas explained to the girls that the Capitol Building is exciting, but it is also an office, like many other buildings. “One of the big misconceptions about Capitol Hill is that it's a very rough house,” she said. “But when you’re there, it’s just a work space. People are very kind to each other, because collaboration is what gets the job done when you’re making legislation happen. But you’ll learn about that later.”
Kids are encouraged to improve literary skills during PawPring Ministries event
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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR
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