As a young girl growing up in Scarsdale, Kate Stempel loved to play sports. “My dad was my coach for travel soccer, and we were undefeated for like eight years,” she shared. “I played on the Raiderettes.”
But when she wasn’t kicking a ball across a field, Stempel could be found pushing a pen across paper. “I’ve always written stories and always liked writing,” she recalled. “I wrote one of my first stories, called ‘Just Being Emily,’ when I was 9 years old. I think my mom still has a copy of it. It was about a girl growing up and learning how to be comfortable in her own skin — being happy, being who she is, and not pretending to be something that she’s not.”
Stempel, who’s now a Rye-based mother of two, has just written a story about another spunky young girl — and this time, she wants to share it with the world. “Sprinkles,” her first-ever children’s book, went on sale Sept. 30. On Oct. 17 from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Bronx River Books, in collaboration with the Scarsdale Library, will help the Scarsdale native celebrate her literary accomplishment. The store will be hosting a “Sprinkles” reading and pajama party (jammies optional), complete with cupcakes.
The plot of “Sprinkles” — a girl named Sky forms an unlikely friendship with a lonely old man through a shared love of bonsai trees and mini cupcakes — first came to Stempel about a year and a half ago.
“I kind of concocted the story in my head, and I told it to my kids [Zander, 12, and Eliza, 9] and asked them what they thought of it. And they said, ‘We love it, mom! We really love it! You should really make it into a real book,’” Stempel said. “And I felt like I had the time to do it and it's always been something I've wanted to do.”
To make her idea come to life, Stempel, who is also a health coach, first worked with online editors to refine her draft, then turned to self-publishing. “That part took the most amount of legwork, because there are pros and cons to self-publishing of course, but there are a lot of companies out there that are really not reputable… so I really spent my time researching companies, and the one that I used — Friesen Press — came up with an A-plus,” she said.
Polishing her manuscript and finding a press were just small steps on her lengthy journey. “Friesen provided me with a whole suite of illustrators I could use, and I got to look at different portfolios I could pick and choose from,” she said. Stempel involved her children in the process: “I used my kids as a sounding board because I wanted a younger, fresher illustrator’s approach,” she explained. “I didn’t necessarily want what would appeal to me; I wanted what would appeal to my children. I found a great illustrator with the help of my kids saying ‘We like this guy’s style.’”
What followed was nearly a year of intense collaboration. “I would say that that piece of the equation was the longest,” Stempel recalled. “I’d share my vision, and then the illustrator would respond to it, and then we’d tweak things and add things and change layouts... But it was a really fun process.”
The end result is a sweet, touching story that weaves in themes from Stempel’s own life. Sky’s character, for example, is the same age and shares many of the same traits as Stempel’s daughter Eliza: “They both love baking and they’re both very compassionate,” Stempel said. Cocoa, Sky’s dog, is a combination of the Stempel family’s huskies, Bella Blue and Ridley. Even the lonely old man in “Sprinkles” and the way he thrives after Sky befriends him is based on real life: Stempel drew upon her experiences volunteering with Citymeals on Wheels in Manhattan years ago. “The nourishment was not just about the food that we were bringing to the elderly. It was really about the companionship,” she explained.
While the publication of her book gives her enormous satisfaction, Stempel knows her work is far from over. Next up is publicizing “Sprinkles.”
“I think some people don't always realize that [aspect of] self-publishing,” she said. “They're like, ‘I wrote a book and now I'm done.’ And I’m like ‘No, no, nobody's going to know that it's there.’” She has a radio interview lined up, and is hoping to get into some children’s book festivals. The story is also being considered for several literary awards. “You really need to do a lot of your own marketing yourself. You need to roll up your sleeves,” she said.
Stempel said she aspires to write another book in the future, “especially now that I know what goes into it.” For now, she hopes her audience will enjoy this tale. “Sprinkles” is meant to be read to children as young as four to six, and could be self-read by kids aged 7 to 10. Yet it’s a great story for kids and their parents (or grandparents) to share anytime, she said. Its message, she stressed, is for everyone: “It’s to have compassion and empathy and to make small gestures,” she said. “Your smile or kind word can make a difference in somebody’s day — or somebody’s life.”