May 7, 2020

Birth Stories for Books: Nita's Day, by Kathy MacMillan

I am so delighted to bring you today's interview with Kathy MacMillan. Kathy and I have several interests in common including kidlit, libraries and American Sign Language. I first interviewed Kathy in 2014, and she has featured my work on her information-rich blog a couple of times (my potty-humor books, here and my Story Time with Signs and Rhymes series, here). Today, we get the inside scoop on Kathy's Little Hands Signing series, just in time for the publication of a new board book in that series, NITA'S DAY (illustrated by Sara Brezzi, Familius Press, May, 2020).

Dawn Prochovnic: What was the inspiration for the Little Hands Signing series?

Kathy MacMillan: I had previously published a book for parents about signing with children ages birth to six, titled Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together. In the fall of 2016, I was promoting that book at the Baltimore Book Festival, when David Miles, then the publishing director at Familius Press, approached me and invited me to pitch them other ideas of this topic. Familius specializes in books for families, so they were an ideal home for books about signing with children – which is all about communication and bonding! I pitched them several ideas, but the one that stood out was a board book series about a little girl named Nita who signs with her parents.

What excites me most about the series is that it features stories about a family. It shows how communicating through American Sign Language improves their everyday lives. Many of the board books about signing with young children focus only on vocabulary. But in this series, I really wanted to show the how as well as the what. I also really wanted to create a series that could be enjoyed equally by hearing, Deaf, and hard-of-hearing readers.

DP: I really love your vision for the series, Kathy. Can you share some backstory about the journey from “book idea” to “book publication?”

KM: Right from the beginning, David and I discussed having some interactive element to the book – flaps or moving parts. The series was always conceived as having the story on the main spreads, supplemented by sign instruction (through illustrations and text) on each page. It was David’s brilliant idea to use the slide-open format to have the sign illustration appear. Not only does it fit the theme perfectly (because effective communication underlies everything the family does!), but it makes the books far sturdier than the life-the-flap format would be. I have heard from many parents and librarians that their copies of Nita’s First Signs have stood up to months of readings by eager babies and toddlers.

DP: Yes, the format is brilliant, and the illustrations are gorgeous. As we both know, conveying a three-dimensional language via two-dimensional pictures can be very challenging. Can you share what went into the illustration process to “get it right” to your satisfaction?

KM: Normally, the author has very little say in the illustrations of a picture book. That often surprises readers. But it’s actually quite unusual for the author and illustrator to have any contact at all in a traditionally published picture book!

I knew from the beginning that approach would never work here. Because most of the people involved in the publishing process did not know American Sign Language, it was crucial that I be consulted at each stage. When Familius agreed to that up front, and even put it in the contract, I knew they were serious about creating a quality product. Because there has been so much misinformation spread about American Sign Language and Deaf Culture, it was vital that we get this right.

And then, when David told me that Sara Brezzi had been selected to do the illustrations, I knew we were on the same page. Sara’s bright, cheery style was perfect for the tone of the books.

I provided detailed instructions and video links for each of the signs, and Sara sent me her sketches of the illustrations as she went. I would give feedback at each stage to make sure we were conveying them accurately. Sometimes we went through two, three, or even ten rounds of back and forth before we worked out the kinks!

In addition, we also had an ASL/Deaf Culture Advisor review each book before going to press. This was a native ASL user who could advise about any problems or misleading information that had slipped through the cracks. I was honored to have renowned Deaf Culture researcher Dr. Barbara Kannapell serve in this role for Nita’s First Signs and Deaf filmmaker and educator Jevon Whetter serve in this role for Nita’s Day.

DP: It is clear that a great deal of care has gone into these books. It used to be there were only a handful of books that incorporated sign language. Now there are many. What would you love to hear a bookseller saying as they handsell Nita’s First Signs or Nita’s Day?

KM: I would love for them to emphasize that learning how to communicate is a young child’s most important job, as it is how they get their other needs met. I would love for them to talk about how these books show how a young child can initiate communication and how much easier it makes the whole family’s life as a result. And that signing with your child sends the crucial message that you are interested in knowing what they have to say!

DP. Yes! Yes! and Yes! 

What would be your dream book review for Nita’s First Signs or Nita’s Day? Who would this review be from? And where would this review be published or posted?

KM: While I love every single review from hearing parents who say how fascinated their babies and toddlers are with the books, and how much they themselves have learned from them, the ones that touch my heart most are from members of the Deaf community. As a librarian and a book reviewer, I have seen so many inaccurate, misleading, and sometimes downright harmful representations of ASL and Deaf Culture. So it was very important to me to get this right. And the reaction of the Deaf community to the first book has been overwhelmingly positive. Recently at a signing, a Deaf woman carefully scrutinized every word and picture in the book and then looked at me and signed, “Thank you for this. This is wonderful.” I swear my heart grew three sizes!

DP: That's beautiful, Kathy. I'm so glad to hear that! What resources and/or next steps would you suggest for readers who want more

KM: Check out the series website at! I have compiled lots of videos, links, articles and more that will be of interest to parents, teachers, and librarians alike!

DP: Youza! That's a great collection of resources! And thanks for including my Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series on your list of Picture Books about ASL and Deaf Culture.

Speaking of resources, are there more Nita books in the works that we should be on the lookout for? 

KM: Yes! We plan to publish several more books in the series, each on a theme such as food signs, family signs, bedtime signs, or seasonal signs.

DP: I'm so glad to hear that. Now for one of my favorite questions: What have I not asked that you would love for people to know?

KM: I would love readers to know that, in addition to the Little Hands Signing books, I also write nonfiction for children and adults and young adult fantasy. My most recent book is She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World (Familius Press, 2019). This book, co-authored with Manuela Bernardi and illustrated by Kathrin Honesta, features built-in sound clips where you get to hear the voices of 14 amazing women at the touch of a button!

DP: What a timely and innovative book! 

What is the best way for readers to get in touch with you or get their hands on your books?

KM: You can contact me through my website at You can also find purchase links for all my books there. They are all available through the usual online booksellers, but you can also purchase signed and personalized copies of all my books at the Deaf Camps, Inc. Online Bookstore. Deaf Camps, Inc. is a an entirely volunteer-run nonprofit organization that provides communication-rich camps for Deaf and hard of hearing children and children learning American Sign Language, and I have been a proud volunteer and board member for the last 18 years. All proceeds from books purchased through the Deaf Camps, Inc. Online Bookstore support Deaf Camps, Inc.’s scholarship program. So it’s a great way to purchase great gifts and support a great cause!

DP: I will also say they have one of the most magnificent logos I have ever seen (readers, you will need to pop on over to the links above to see it for yourself!)

Thank you so much for stopping by the blog, Kathy. Best wishes for a successful launch of Nita's Day!

KM: Thanks for having me on your site, Dawn!  And happy signing, everyone!

Purchase Nita’s First Signs at Deaf Camps, Inc. Online Bookstore (autographed copies that support a great cause!) | | | | (use code BOOKS for 20% off)

Purchase Nita’s Day at | | | Deaf Camps, Inc. online bookstore (signed and personalized copies available starting May 12, 2020.) | (use code BOOKS for 20% off)

Join Kathy MacMillan online on Tuesday, May 12 to celebrate the launch of Nita's Day!
11 AM Eastern/8AM Pacific: ASL Storytime on Facebook Live at

2 PM Eastern/11 AM Pacific: Spoken English Storytime on Facebook Live at

Kathy MacMillan (she/her) is a writer, American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, signing storyteller, and avowed Hufflepuff.  She writes picture books (the Little Hands Signing series, Familius Press), children’s nonfiction (She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World, Familius Press), and young adult fantasy (Sword and Verse and Dagger and Coin, both HarperTeen). She has also published many resource books for educators, librarians, and parents. Kathy serves as the co-Regional Advisor for the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia Region of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives near Baltimore, MD. Find her online at: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram   

Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at

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