By Joseph Robertia
Many famous authors have drawn inspiration from living simply in the tight quarters of tiny cabins. Perhaps another is blossoming here on the central Kenai Peninsula.
“We were living in a one-room cabin with no television or running water when she birthed the story,” said Betsy Laws, whose daughter, Kiowa Richardson, recently published her first book, “Christmas Kangaroos,” which she wrote two years ago at the age of 14.
The idea for the story came while Kiowa and her mother were preparing for a Christmas-related church function at New Life Assembly of God in Kenai.
“We were in charge of setting up the nativity scene and telling the story,” Kiowa said.
They bring in stuffed animals similar to those that would have been present in the Bethlehem manger to make a connection with the small children listening to the story, and to give them something to hold to keep them still while the tale is being told. They had one toy that didn’t fit the theme, though.
“We recently had gotten a stuffed kangaroo from a thrift store, and as we were setting up, we kept joking about how we should put it in,” Kiowa said.
“I thought, ‘I should make a story out of this,’ so I did, from the kangaroo’s perspective,” she said.
The kangaroo, brought home from a thrift store, is included in a nativity scene and initially not accepted. Over the course of the story, the other animals remember the teachings of their faith and learn to accept the kangaroo.
“My message was that everyone is welcome in God’s love, even those different and unique,” Kiowa said.
The story was written and submitted to her church through a competition, the Fine Arts Festival through the Assemblies of God, which attempts to inspire youth to develop their artistic talents.
“The theme was ‘Compelled by Love,’ and her (criterion) was to write and illustrate a children’s novel,” Laws said.
More than 50,000 youths competed nationwide, with only the best of the district competitors making it all the way to the national level. Kiowa was one of 17 book writers who made it all the way to nationals.
“It was the cream of the crop at nationals. I’ve always thought she writes really, really well, but moms always think everything their children do is fantastic, so it was really exciting to have so many other people acknowledge her talent,” Laws said.
Richardson wasn’t the overall winner, but she didn’t stop believing in her story. Not long after returning home, her story was read during a pie auction at her church, and several who heard it were so moved by the story that they encouraged her to attempt to get it published.
“We sent a copy to WestBow Press, a sister company to the much larger Thomas Nelson Publishing Company, and they said yes. WestBow is a self-publishing company, but they still have to approve stories, and then Thomas Nelson watches how it does and decides if they want to take it under their wing,” Laws said.
Laws and Kiowa began with getting 500 copies of the book made, and they are hopeful they will be able to distribute them to a wide audience due to the message of the story.
“It’s a Christmas story and a children’s story, and with the theme of, ‘There’s a place for all of us even when we feel like we don’t fit in,’ I think there is a lot of potential for it,” Laws said.
Kiowa echoed similar sentiments, and said that, while she is proud of her first major work, she’s not sure if it will lead to a career path or not.
“I’d like to see it end up in the hands of as many people as possible,” she said. “I liked writing it because it was something new, but I’m not sure if I’d try to do it for a living because book writers don’t make a lot of money. I usually write poems or creative essays, so I may just stick with that as a hobby instead of trying to pursue it as a career.”
Kiowa will sign copies of her book from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 23 at Odie’s in Soldotna.