The family’s new book, “A Monster Ate My Kittens,” is available Nov. 1. The mystery behind some missing kittens is a natural offshoot of the Koller storytelling tradition, something the clan dates back to ancestral horse thieves and pirates.
Daddylibrium checked in with son Nic Koller (the illustrator) and family patriarch Kevin Koller (the author) to find out more about their new “Monster,” the joys of bedtime reading and why one special cat played a big role in their ongoing yarns.
Daddylibrium: Talk about the storytelling tradition in your family, and did you think early on that those tales might one day fuel a bona fide children’s book?
Kevin: Kollers have always been storytellers, but the stories I grew up with were embellishments of our family history. Our ancestors were horse thieves and pirates – a pretty rough group. I used to tell the boys stories from my youth, and, following the family tradition, I’d really embellish those. Our boys loved being read to at night, but they had even more fun when they knew i was departing from the printed story to make a book more exciting or ridiculous. It was just a fun way to extend the normal bedtime ritual… The stories that I wrote for them are now 25 years old. Back then I never thought I’d see these stories in print.
Nic: I remember Dad’s stories about his childhood. They were so elaborate and “out there” that I always wondered which parts were true. We used to argue about a character named Jim McDermitt (a bully from Dad’s childhood) and whether or not he was a real person. Regardless of how factual they were, Dad’s stories always were a lot of fun.
Daddylibrium: What were the recurring themes in your family’s stories, and how did they evolve over time?
Kevin: Nic mentioned the stories about childhood bullies (Jim really was a real, live bully – by the way). We used to have a family cat named Santa, and I’d tell stories about his adventures. In those stories, the boys would get captured and Santa Cat would have to save them. I’m sure you know that when you have sons, sooner or later you have to have to tell some stories about MONSTERS.
Nic: In the stories about Santa Cat there was an ongoing theme in a different sense, too. There’d always be the part of the story where Dad would sing: “Santa Cat to the rescue. Go Santa Cat! Go Santa Cat!” As you can imagine, when I was 5 that was the coolest thing ever.
Daddylibrium: Did you run the book past any children in your current family for that final stamp of approval? What feedback did you get from young readers?
Kevin: I always related very well to the 6 and under crowd, and with luck, I always will. But currently, my test market “children” are now 31, 28. And 25.
Nic: We definitely did not market test “A Monster Ate My Kittens” in a traditional sense, but it was read to several generations of our family. A number of years after my brothers and I, our cousins Aaron and Bennett had a blast reading it. Aaron is off at college now – just to give you some perspective. Andrew Rose (who the book is dedicated to) was at the perfect age when we finished the new illustrations. And now, my little cousin Occy has his very own copy. I believe Occy will be starting preschool soon, so his favorite page was when the boy in the book is picked up by a school bus. He also enjoyed the idea that the monster was “just pretend.”
Daddylibrium: What messages or emotions do you hope to leave in the minds of young readers?
Kevin: I want them to enjoy the story and illustrations and to use their imaginations. Books like ours are a great excuse to have a little family time and read together. Of course, there is also a message in each story. In “A Monster Ate My Kittens,” kids will see that our fears and worries are often worse than reality.
Daddylibrium: Writing a children’s book offers unique storytelling challenges. What part of the process did you find the most challenging – and the most rewarding
Kevin: There is nothing more special than a child enjoying him or herself. That was always the greatest reward. It’s also been very rewarding knowing that my children enjoyed these stories so much that they grew up to illustrate them and work at getting them published. I guess I found out that our story time was as important and special to them as it was to me. The most challenging part for me would have been illustrations, which is a giant part of storytelling in this format. That is why it is good to have a talented artist and illustrator in the family.
Nic: I think Dad has always had a serious knack for storytelling. There is a rhythm to it and a formula – like telling a joke. Our book is probably not as market researched or polished as others coming out this fall, but it is super genuine and fun.
Daddylibrium: What children’s books are your personal favorites — and why?
Kevin: My favorite story to read to the boys was “The Little Mouse, the Big Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear.” It’s a fantastic book with hilarious illustrations and just the right amount of tension. Other than that, any Dr. Seuss book. You can probably guess that I enjoy rhyming books.
Nic: In 2006 (when I started the illustrations) “Knuffle Bunny” was one of the cool, new books out. It’s for toddlers and very young kids so its not a thrilling read for parents, but the art is impressive and inspiring. It’s done with a mix of photography and hand-drawn illustration. Let’s just say it’s got a lot of style.
Daddylibrium: The book is part of a promised series … what other topics or adventures can young readers expect next?
Kevin: The next book is “A Monster Ate My Brother,” and it’s not as dark as it sounds. It is another rhyming book and the same boy and his fascination with monsters. Only this time, he has a baby brother, and he’s not too thrilled to be sharing his parents with the baby. We have other monster stories in the backlog, but “A Monster Ate My Brother” is the true sequel.