Kenna Launches ‘Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade’
A salt marsh in distress, ghosts of ecologists past, and a very determined 12-year-old populate, Branford author Kimberly Behre Kenna’s new novel, Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade (Fitzroy Books / Regal House, Feb. 2, 2023).
This Saturday, Feb. 4, Kimberly, a former 5th-grade teacher, will launch her eco-conscious, magic-filled middle-grade book with an interactive event for kids at Branford’s James Blackstone Memorial Library, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Kids in grades K to 8 are encouraged to meet Kimberly, learn more about “artivism” (using art to become an activist), create inspirational flags (based on Tibetan prayer flags), make environmental activist buttons, try treats inspired by book themes, and discuss how they have the power to make the world a better place.
After a brief reading and question session, “I’m sending the kids and adults off to the activity tables,” says Kimberly. “I really want to start connecting more with kids, so I’m having an interactive book launch that’s more of a celebration and inspirational [event].”
She’s also delighted to be launching her first middle-grade novel at a library that means so much to her.
“My mother grew up in Branford, and she, as a child, spent so much time at the Blackstone Library. She came from a very big family and would walk to the library to find some quiet and read books,” says Kimberly. “So when I moved to Branford, of course, I was drawn to the library. I have spent hours there, writing this book and one that’s coming out in August.”
Sharing Her Story
In Kimberly’s new book, “Art,” a shy girl with a bit of a stutter, conjures some impressive spiritual assistance to help her very own “brigade” of underdogs save a dying salt marsh. Previously titled “Art and War,” the book was selected as a 2019 Honorable Mention in Shoreline Arts Alliance’s annual Tassy Walden New Voices in Children’s Literature competition.
“I think that gave it a big boost,” said Kimberly of her road to finding a publisher.
She signed with Fitzroy Books/Regal House (Raleigh, NC) in 2021.
Kimberly wrote her book with Long Island Sound in mind. She hopes the story will encourage Connecticut kids to become more eco-conscious and stand up for what they believe in. At the same time, it’s also a thumping good read, with plenty of humor infused into the story.
“Middle-grade books are starting to highlight themes that are a little more serious or challenging, but they’re the things that kids are going through now. Tempering it with some humor and hope is what exactly what needs to be done in those kinds of books, including my own,” says Kimberly.
Kimberly’s dedicating a portion of proceeds from her book’s sales to Save the Sound, a non-profit dedicated to Long Island Sound’s ecological restoration.
“Save the Sound has been an organization that’s been close to my heart for many, many years.”
Kimberly’s appreciation of Long Island Sound and its integral salt marshes sprang from years of living in shoreline towns, including Branford, Guilford, and Madison. Born and raised in Madison, Kimberly and her husband resided in Guilford when their two sons were young before the family moved to Branford.
With a B.A. in psychology and an M.S. in counseling, Kimberly consulted for public schools and taught ecology and language in New Haven at The Foote School. Kimberly would often bring her 5th graders to Branford’s Trolley Trail, which meanders through salt marsh and shoreline from Pine Orchard to Stony Creek.
“We’d roam around the trails; we’d use binoculars and look at birds and record data. It was just really fun to watch them get so animated about being out in nature.”
Kimberly says her teaching work definitely helped plant the seeds of her book.
“The way I taught Long Island Sound Ecology was I had my students choose environmentalists from the past, and it wasn’t restricted to scientists. It could be photographers that highlighted the land. It could be songwriters. It could be any kind of person that brought attention to the land,” says Kimberly.
“And we studied them and thought about how that person, though dead, how their strategies might solve a problem today in Long Island Sound. We called it ‘Resurrecting Ghosts.’ The kids would have to write monologues from that ghost’s perspective and get into round table discussions, and then they would give a presentation of their fictional journey in solving Long Island Sound problems.”
Among other inspirational efforts, one year, her 5th graders also made and sold their own ecology magazines, giving all sales proceeds to Save the Sound.
Some of Kimberly’s other work with young students also helped set the stage for the creative problem-solving Art displays in the book. Kimberly coached several Odyssey of the Mind teams, including 3rd and 4th graders in Guilford, 4th and 5th graders in Branford, and 6th graders in East Haven.
For the global contest program, “...you gather a team of seven kids, and then choose one of five different problems,” Kimberly explains.
“The kids have to brainstorm a solution but also have to present the solution in front of an audience. Most of the ones I coached had a theatrical slant, so the kids were putting on a short play. The play had to present what they learned and how they solved the problem with the research they did.”
Several years ago, Kimberly completed her teaching career, returning to school to earn her M.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University (PA) in 2015.
“I left the classroom and went to school for writing, and I’ve spent the rest of my time writing.”
Her thesis, a full-length adult play (Ana’s Hummingbird), received a Dramatist’s Guild staged reading (New York City). Kimberly’s short stories and poetry have been published in American Writers Review, Mused, Rubbertop Review, and Plum Tree Tavern.
As for conjuring her book, Kimberly says, one day, during a walk along a local salt marsh, “...Artemis came to me and basically whispered a story in my ear.”
The story she heard was based on Kimberly’s own love of this important resource and her constant thought of, “...what if we lose this beautiful sanctuary?”
“It’s always been a sanctuary for me,” she says. “And so the seed was planted there, and Artemis bloomed from there. And from what I’d done with my students, she automatically resurrected some ghosts to help solve the problem.”
Artemis stars in the first book of Kimberly’s Brave Girl Collection. Kimberly’s next book in the collection, Jett Jamison and the Secret Storm, is set for publication in August 2023 (Black Rose Publishing). A third book in the series, not yet published, won second place in The Institute of Children’s Literature 2022 Middle Grade Mystery First Pages Contest.
Copies of Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade, $9.95, are available at www.regalhousepublishing.com and can be found online at Amazon and Walmart or on sale at Breakwater Books (Guilford). A portion of proceeds of book sales benefit Save the Sound (www.savethesound.org). Learn more about the author at www.kimberlybehrekenna.com. The free Blackstone Library book launch event for grades K- 8 is Saturday, February 4, 1:30 — 2:30 p.m. For information or to register, visit www.blackstonelibrary.org