Simply 7 with Kaz Windness & Giveaway: BITSTY BAT, SCHOOL STAR

Do you know what’s better than seeing your friends succeed in publishing picture books?  Watching their work grow.

kaz-windness-photo-2022Kaz Windness visited my blog just last year for her thrilling author-illustrator debut.  This year, she has another stellar picture book she has both written and illustrated that I can’t wait to share with you.  When she’s not writing or illustrating books, Kaz teaches illustration at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design and enjoys making deep-dish pizza. Kaz lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, two sons, and Boston terrier. You can learn more about her at her website.

bitsy-coverBITSY BAT, SCHOOL STAR is a book I watched grow into its final state.  It’s a delightful story of a little autistic bat that literally sees the world upside down.  So her first day of school presents a LOT of challenges that leave her struggling to figure out how to find her footing.  However, it’s important to note that young readers probably wouldn’t know Bitsy was autistic if they didn’t read the back matter.  The illustrations are gorgeous and sweet.  Trust me when I say that this is a book you won’t want to miss.

Welcome back Kaz!

Me: I adore Bitsy Bat.  She is so cute and sweetly earnest.  What gave you the idea for her story?

Kaz: Aww! Thank you so much, Jena! The idea for the book appeared when I was doodling bats—my favorite animal—and chatting with one of my illustration students who is autistic like me. We were reflecting on growing up neurodivergent, and I said it felt like I was a bat in a school for mice. Everything felt upside down to me, and when I tried to act like everyone else, it made me confused, upset, and more prone to meltdown. I realized there was a story in that idea and began writing “Bitsy Bat, School Star.”


Me: There aren’t a lot of picture books out there with fully developed autistic characters like Bitsy.  Why was it important for you to write a story with an autistic character?

Kaz: As I was researching autism books that might help me and my autistic child, I discovered the vast majority of books on the autism topic, including children’s picture books, were written by people who were not autistic themselves. Some of the narratives were hurtful and even harmful. As I reflected on what kind of books would have helped me as a kid, and as I talked to my own child about how we would like to be seen and understood, I knew I needed to be brave and public about being autistic, and write that story.

Additionally, it was important to me that Bitsy was a girl. Most autism stories feature a boy main character, and it’s not true that autism is “just a boy thing.” This misnomer comes from early research being done almost exclusively on boys, so their common characteristics were the ones that got identified. I wish I had known my brain was wired differently rather than believing I was broken my whole life. “Bitsy Bat, School Star” is a book for all children, but representation matters.


Me: I remember seeing some of your original bat sketches.  Why did Bitsy change so much in the illustrations and your approach to her character?

Kaz: I run Goth-y and Bitsy is me, so that showed up in my original concept for her. Bitsy was a little black bat with big candy corn-colored eyes and sharp fangs, and when my editor pitched the concept to the publisher, they said they didn’t want the book to be pigeon-holed (bat-holed?) as a Halloween book. They asked if I would turn Bitsy into an owl, and I gave it a shot, but there was no way of making that topsy-turvy concept work without Bitsy being a bat character. I decided to try a different kind of bat design that would move Bitsy away from the classic Halloween using the adorable Honduras cotton ball bat as inspiration.


Me: I love how inclusive Bitsy’s classroom is; there are so many different kinds of nocturnal animals in it.  Did you have to do a lot of research on nocturnal animals?  How did you decide which ones to include?

Kaz: I originally wrote the book to be a bat in a classroom full of mice, but my editor and art director convinced me to expand the classroom to nocturnal animals. I’m glad they did. It was fun researching nocturnal animals and their characteristics and deciding who to include. Often, I made the decision based on what I wanted to draw. I love drawing porcupines, for example. All Mo’s fun quills! Scout the raccoon was a character from another book I wrote that never published. Benjamin Berry was the only character who stayed a mouse. Using a variety of animals also helped me think about individual strengths and challenges, and how that would add to the authenticity of the classroom.bitsy kids

Me: I absolutely love the textures you have going on in this book.  What did your illustration process for this book look like?  Did you use a blend of traditional and digital media?

Kaz: Thank you! My approach for Bitsy Bat was the same as my debut Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster book “Swim, Jim!” (May 2022). I do most of my drawings on paper and photograph them, then paint in Photoshop using textural brushes. I select an area with the lasso tool and then “spray” in color. Bitsy was 48-pages, compared to the standard 32-page picture book length, so the art took a bit longer, but I’m happy with the results.

Me: I know a lot of work went into this story with a lot of revisions along the way.  What was harder for this particular book: writing it or illustrating it?

Kaz: Writing is harder, but illustrations are a lot more labor. The story revision process was pretty intense for “Bitsy Bat, School Star,” mostly because we were dealing with such a sensitive and important topic. My editor, Catherine Laudone, and I wanted to get every word just right. I also chose to change the orientation of the book from horizontal to vertical to accomplish the up and down feeling of Bitsy’s emotions, and that took extra illustration time to figure out. I had periods when I worried if I’d ever be able to finish the book, but now that I’m holding a printed book in my hands—one I know will make a difference–it’s all been worth it.

Me: I love that.  Now that you’ve had several books published and have achieved several of your publishing dreams, what have you learned on this journey that you’d like to tell yourself (if you could go back in time)?

Kaz: Great question! No one has ever asked me that. Would I say, “don’t give up?” No, because I was never the kind of person that would.

Would I say, “don’t worry, you’ll make it?” No, because all that hard work I did in times when I didn’t know if I’d break into publishing has paid off in skills that serve me now.

starsOh! The one thing I wish I had done MUCH earlier in my career was network and build friendships with librarians. They are the best and greatest advocates for your book—and they are COOL! Sure, it’s fabulous be friends with fellow writers and illustrators, but it’s the librarians that make a real difference in your book’s visibility and success. I LOVE LIBRARIANS!

I also want to give a big shoutout to teachers. I LOVE TEACHERS! I have free curriculum-based lesson plans as well as craft and drawing activities at for you. I can’t wait to hear how you bring the “Shine-and-Share” activity into your classrooms.

I hope you enjoy “Bitsy Bat, School Star!

Great insight.  Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Kaz.

But wait, dear readers!  There’s more!  Kaz is giving away one copy of BITSTY BAT, SCHOOL STAR to one lucky winner.  You can enter the rafflecopter here.

Side note: this giveaway will be open a bit longer than usual.  I will be taking a long trip and away from the internet, so the giveaway will actually be open until June 20th.

10 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Kaz Windness & Giveaway: BITSTY BAT, SCHOOL STAR

  1. This is so clever to feature a bat in a classroom of nocturnal animals because of their upside down resting and ability to fly makes bats so different. I also enjoy that this girl bat is autistic.

  2. It was interesting to see the difference between your original Bitsy and the one inspired by the cotton ball bat. I really like how she turned out!

  3. Pingback: “Bitsy Bat, School Star” Order Links, Media Kit, Lesson Plans & Activity Sheets – The Kaz Windness Blog

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