Katie Mazeika is a children’s book author and illustrator whose ability to connect with young children was on full display at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library on January 31. Mazeika debuted her latest release, “Beulah Has a Hunch.” But this is no ordinary children’s book – this is the story of a real person named Beulah Louise Henry (a descendant of Patrick Henry), whose brilliant mind could not and would not be tamped down to conform with social norms of the 1800s. Beulah was too unique for that.
Leading up to speaking to the wiggly kids, Mazeika (a mother) told them Beulah’s story, how she would come up with inventions and how her brain worked differently than other people. Beulah possessed hyperphantasia, the ability to see things in complete detail. But that wasn’t all, Beulah also had synesthesia, seeing color in words; numbers and sounds contained colors that she could see.
Over time, her parents came to accept their daughter was different and her desire and need to come up with inventions. One of the inventions was a telescoping umbrella handle. There would be over her lifetime some 49 inventions. Beulah would create voice boxes for dolls, dolls with eyes that opened and closed, and even a self-basting oven.
We caught up with Mazeika between meetings and traveled to hear first-hand why she has chosen historical female figures for some of her books.
“I would say my mother! She has always been such a force and inspiration to never let expectations define me,” said Mazeika. “My mother is one of countless women who are powerful, smart and strong. It’s important for young girls to know those stories. Introducing readers to female role models has always been my goal!”
Mazeika said she has faced the same challenges all writers do (i.e. rejection), but during those “little disheartening” episodes she said she found her voice. And writing of any kind is a labor of love; the illustrations alone for Beulah took six months.
And Mazeika’s challenges in life will be told in her next book, “Maybe Just Ask Me.”
“It comes out next fall. It’s my first fiction book as an author and illustrator,” said Mazeika. “The story is based on my childhood. I had cancer as a toddler and lost my right eye. After that surgery, I spent extensive time in and out of hospitals.
“The book follows six-year-old me into a new school. I had no hair and wore an eyepatch. Naturally, the other students were very curious! In the book, the other students innocently make wild assumptions about why the new kid wears a headscarf and eyepatch: Was she in the circus or attacked by pirates? She grows increasingly frustrated because she just wants to make friends and eventually tells them to, “maybe just ask me.”
Mazeika spent time showing tiny, fledgling illustrators how to find their voices by imagining their own inventions and then drawing them out. One of their combined efforts became a drawing of a scooter, one tricked out with a motor to go fast and a freezer for ice cream. Who wouldn’t want one of those!
By Marilou Newell