The idea came to Patty Costello while attending the January 2017 Women’s March in snowy Boise with her then-1-year-old son in tow. With the nation mired in combative politics and heated debates over travel bans and border walls, she considered the world her child would grow up in. She wondered how she would teach her child kindness and inclusivity, even as many of the country’s leaders modeled the opposite.
Costello has a background in neuroscience and oversees the undergraduate psychology program for web-based Walden University. But on that winter day, she decided to do something she had never done before: She would write a children’s book.
“Catalina and the King’s Wall” was published more than a year later. If anything, the themes it explores feel increasingly relevant.
The simple story follows Catalina, a talented baker who spends her days creating treats for a gluttonous, ranting king. When the king decides to build a wall to keep out residents of the nearby kingdom, where Catalina’s family lives, she quickly gets to work concocting a plan to stop him. She suggests walls made of frosting and sprinkles, knowing full well they won’t withstand the rain and wind. But the king continues to demand something indestructible. Though it first appears that a wall made from cookie dough might do the trick, Catalina is too persistent and resourceful to give up that easily.
Despite the weighty subject matter that inspired it, Costello’s text is breezy and humorous. Her frequent use of alliteration (for example: “Catalina hummed happily while she baked and buttered”) gives it a lyrical quality that is perfect for reading aloud. And she makes use of enough repetition to keep children engaged without letting it overtake the story. Creating a plot rooted in cookies and baking idioms is also a smart way to hook her target audience, ages 4 to 8.
The colorful accompanying illustrations by Diane Cojocaru are delightful as well. A cheerful mouse appears in each scene, adding another opportunity to engage even young children. They can search for the mouse while mixing batter in Catalina’s kitchen or standing next to the king as he gazes at himself in the mirror.
Though the impact of Costello’s cleverest lines – “She had a plan for the king, who clearly had no plan of his own” – might resonate more fully with adults, they nevertheless open the door for important conversations. That’s the best thing about Costello’s writing. She has crafted a compelling story while still leaving plenty of space for discussions beyond the text – conversations that caregivers or teachers can adapt to suit the ages and backgrounds of their young audience. The messages are clear without becoming heavy-handed, and Catalina is a character worth discussing. She is compassionate and resilient, strong in her convictions and unafraid to challenge power. We can all learn from her.
▪ “Catalina and the King’s Wall” is available at Rediscovered Books, 180 N. 8th St. in Boise; Hyde and Seek, 1521 N. 13th St. in Boise; Chapter One Bookstore, 340 2nd St. W. in Ketchum; at pattycostellobooks.com or eifrigpublishing.com; and on Amazon.
“Why Our Children’s Future Depends on Libraries, Books and Imagination”
Presentation by Patty Costello
Wednesday, Oct. 24, 7-8:30 p.m.
Rediscovered Books, 180 N. 8th St. in Boise
Reading of “Catalina and the King’s Wall”
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019
4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Eagle Public Library, 100 North Stierman Way in Eagle