Susan Katz is an author and founder of ConnectingAuthors. (Photo/Courtesy Katz)
Susan Katz is an author and founder of ConnectingAuthors. (Photo/Courtesy Katz)

A writer who helps kids calm racing minds

Whether giving presentations to students or workshops for teachers, Susan Katz, 49, strives to convey the transformational power and joy of reading.

The Novato resident taught first to third grades and served as a literary coach in the Bay Area for more than 25 years. She is also an artist and an award-winning author of children’s books.

In addition, Katz is the founder and executive director of ConnectingAuthors, a national nonprofit that has brought more than 80 authors, illustrators and even musicians into schools. The goal? To promote literacy and the arts, especially among at-risk youth.

J.: How is the pandemic impacting your nonprofit work in the schools?

Susan Katz: We’re doing virtual visits. The mission is to create lifelong readers and writers. We do workshops and walk the kids through the writing process. We bring books to life with puppets, props and songs. I get in costume and bring different elements to my presentations. You really have to be lively. We try to show children that writing can be a career, a way to express yourself.

You also write children’s books, including a series of biographies this year for young readers. Both “The Story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” and “The Story of Albert Einstein” discuss antisemitism, discrimination and their impact on Jewish families.

My editor wanted someone who was Jewish to write about them. I grew up outside of Detroit, went to a Conservative synagogue every Saturday and was bat mitzvahed.

The RBG book was published in March. I couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen [to her], but the timeliness was there.

Your new picture book “Meditation Station” — the International Book Awards’ winner for Children’s Mind/Body/Spirit — urges kids to “wave goodbye to your racing mind and find inner calm” by staying in the meditation station rather than hopping on the next train of thought. Why mindfulness for kids?

When I moved to California, I discovered Buddhism and started going to Spirit Rock Meditation Center in West Marin, studying with Sylvia Boorstein. We talked about kindness, compassion and calm.

As an educator, I did a lot of grounding activities in the classroom. I saw it really decrease student anxiety before tests, and help them to center and be calm … A train of thought may come up, but you can come back, ground yourself and stay in the station. Beyond the classroom, kids might be having a temper tantrum because they can’t have their favorite toy or go to a party, but they can sit and breathe and center themselves. It’s a life skill that we want to teach early on.

The cover of "Meditation Station" by Susan Katz and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan shows a teddy bear sitting in lotus position as a train goes by

So the meditation station is useful for adults, too.

The one thing we always have with us is our breath. It’s something you can come back to in the moment.

You say that you wrote your first story in kindergarten, about your dog Ginger, discovered verse in the fourth grade, and have been rhyming ever since — including in your high school valedictorian address.

Yes. And when I ran for student government in high school, all of my speeches were in rhyme. It’s always been my signature. I love the way words play with each other. I learned to read by reading Dr. Seuss.

Your first book, “ABC, Baby Me!” was published by Random House in 2010. You wrote a few more over the next several years, but this year you’ve been prolific.

I have been so lucky: I will have eight books coming out this year! It took me 12 years to get my first book published. I think a big part of it is due to the pandemic. So many parents are building a personal library for their children. There’s been a big boom in terms of print books for kids.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.