As a little kid, Kiara Brown was labeled a tomboy. But even then, she wasn’t a fan of being put in a box. Now, the smart and determined 16-year-old has published her own children’s book with a message of empowerment for young people.
Brown’s book “Princess Pretend and the Not Knight” has been called a feminist fairytale, but for Brown the message is more about defying labels and shaking off preconceived notions.
It started with a middle school rereading of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Princess and The Pea.” As a young teen, Brown realized that she didn’t like the story’s takeaway.
“The message that it gave across to little girls who want to be princesses is that you do that by being weak and fragile,” Brown said. “I was like, ‘Wait, this is terrible. I totally need to redo this.’”
She came up with her title character, a princess who’s frustrated by having to do all of the things princesses are expected to do and eventually learns that she can save herself from a tricky spot. But Brown’s book has a twist. It also features a girl knight who has gone in the opposite direction. She feels like she has to be tough all the time but is embarrassed to admit she really wants some sparkly glitter on her helmet.
“I was just targeting one side of the audience [with Princess Pretend]. I felt like I needed to add in the Not Knight who’s similar so that they could help each other but also have their own stories,” Brown said. “I feel like finding a balance can be difficult because people want to put you in a box.”
Writing, illustrating and publishing the book has been a two-year process for Brown, now a sophomore at Riverside High School in Lansdowne, who started the project as an eighth grader. A writer since early elementary school, she initially had a middle grade chapter book in mind.
“I was trying to make it into a novel and it just wasn’t working,” Brown said. “It hit me that the people that I need to be sharing this idea with weren’t people that would be reading novels. It needed to be little kids. They’re the ones who need this.”
And the entire process meant a big learning curve for Brown. She’s always considered herself a writer, from the time she was in second grade and made up stories of epic battles between the snails and the slugs in an imaginary world. The story came easily, but the illustration side, not so much. When her plans to bring on an illustrator fell through, Brown decided to teach herself to the craft and started by poring through children’s books to find a style she loved.
“I’d go to the library and check out like 20 at a time and read through them,” Brown said.
She illustrated the colorful work with pencil, paper and marker, then put on the finishing touches in Adobe Illustrator for a professional look.
Brown initially considered trying to pitch the book to a traditional publisher but was impatient to get her story out there, so she decided to take on the project herself, not just self-publishing but creating her own company, Krown Picture Books. Brown completed the process of editing, formatting and finding a printer. She remembers the excitement of the day last fall when a thousand books were delivered to her home. She handles marketing for the book herself and fills orders from the Krown website while also selling copies at author events.
“It was super difficult,” she said. “I only knew how to write stories. That was the one thing I knew how to do. … Every step that I went, I was like this is the hardest step, it won’t get harder than this. And then the next step would be even more difficult.”
But Brown’s persistence paid off when the book was finally published last fall, just as the school year was starting. Brown set up a series of readings for young children at elementary schools and libraries around the county, where kids get inspired not only by the book but by Brown’s own story as well.
“It’s really cool going into the schools. Just a few years ago I was in the exact same position as them. I remember seeing the authors come in and being like, ‘One day that’s going to be me,’” Brown said. “They’re always really surprised that I’m still in high school. A lot of the time, they get inspired from the book’s message but also by me making the book. They’re like, ‘Wow she did it, and she’s close to my age so I can do it, too.’”
Brown, who plans to graduate a year early from Riverside in 2019, doesn’t yet have college plans. But she is working on several new writing projects and, with one published book under her belt, is considering trying the traditional publishing route this time.
And just like “Princess Pretend and the Not Knight,” Brown has gone through her own journey of self-discovery in publishing the book.
“It’s made me a lot more confident and has given me a lot of experience. Now I have all this business experience, writing experience and illustrating experience,” Brown said. “It has really changed me as a person.”
For information about “Princess Pretend and the Not Knight” or to order a copy, go to krownpicturebooks.com. You can also follow Krown Picture Books on Instagram and Twitter at @krown_pic_books for the latest news and upcoming readings and events.