Behind the Scenes: “Lessons from Kat and Juju” by Kataneh Vahdani

When Kataneh Vahdani jumped from the animation world into children’s literature, she found she had a lot to learn. But, with one look at her bio, you’ll see she doesn’t shy away from new experiences!  In this Behind the Scenes post, Kat shares lessons from her first picture book – the kind of lessons you don’t find in a textbook. 

AND Kat has generously offered a GIVEAWAY to one lucky commenter on the blog! So please leave a comment after the article to be eligible to win. We’ll announce the winner with next Friday’s post. 

Lessons from Kat and JujuKataneh Vahdani-HeadShot-1

I come from an animation background and have directed and animated my animation films for many years. Many have asked me; it must’ve been so easy to create your own children’s book compared to animation films, right? But my answer surprised them.

It took me many years to finally finish and publish my original children’s book and I want to share with you all the lessons I have learned along the way.

Know your audience
Sometimes when we make animation films, our audience is very broad. To create my children’s book, I learned that knowing the age group of my readers really matters. I had to learn who is my audience and how to write a story that can be heard and become effective.

Vahdani-KatandJuju-26698-JK-v8.inddPlan ahead but stay flexible
When I started writing and illustrating Kat and Juju (book 1 of the series), I thought by creating polished illustrations I am going to save a lot of time. That was not a wise decision because soon I learned that there will be many changes that have to be applied and when we create polished designs, it becomes so time consuming to apply the changes.

Also, because we spend so much time creating polished illustrations, we may want to resist the change. I learned to start designing rough images and also write short story beats. That way I can be flexible and apply all the changes without any hesitations.

Be a team player yet don’t lose your own voice
Creating a children’s book is a team effort. I learned to accept valuable criticism from my publisher but at the same time allow them to hear my voice.

I believe finding the balance to listen and to be heard is one of the key elements to create a successful children’s book.

Have a tough skin and don’t give upKat and Juju-Singing- By Kataneh Vahdani
I grew up in Iran and came to this country alongside my single mother and little brother, with few suitcases and little money. I have my degree in Mathematics and my Master’s in animation but as a first-generation immigrant, I deal with a lot of fears. I was judged by my accent and missed opportunities due to my background. I was rejected many times, and my story ideas and designs were stolen from me due to the game of favoritism. But I kept fighting, and I didn’t give up. There were times when I wanted to quit, but I kept going.

Today the world seems to be more open to diversity but that does not mean they are 100% ready to put diverse people as leaders. But we are heading in the right direction.

I encourage all diverse authors to not let the rejections and their fears stop them from sharing their stories. Stay true to who you are, and don’t give up. Our accents and diversity are beautiful and are our superpower!

Believe in your strength
“Remember you have wings and can fly high,” said Juju to Kat.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Kat and Juju! 

Kataneh Vahdani-HeadShot-2Bio
Kataneh Vahdani is a director, animation creator, storyteller and a professor. She was born in Iran but came to the United States in pursuit of her dream: to have a voice and be free. After receiving a degree in Mathematics, she enrolled at California Institute of the Arts, spending seven years studying animation and earning her master’s degree. She later continued her education in Paris, France. Kataneh’s animated films have been screened at many festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival and the New York International Film Festival, where she was named Best Director of Animated Shorts. She worked for many years in the story department at Walt Disney Animation Studios and also taught story, design, and animation at CalArts and College of the Canyons. Kataneh is currently directing an animated feature. In summer 2020 Kataneh’s first picture book, “Kat and Juju” is being published.

Connect with Kataneh:
Amazon Page
Instagram Page: @KatandJuju
Twitter: @KatanehV and @KatandJujuLove
Facebook: KatanehVahdani and Kat Juju
Facebook Page: @KatandJuju

15 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “Lessons from Kat and Juju” by Kataneh Vahdani

  1. For some reason I cannot leave a comment on the post about Kataneh Vahdani. Here is what I am trying to write:

    Congratulations on your debut book! And on top of many other successes. I look forward to reading it.

    Lisa Connors


  2. Congrats on your success, Kataneh! Animation and film making is a tough business, but probably not as tough as being a recent immigrant in this country. It’s clear you’re a strong survivor. Your point about knowing your audience is spot on, something that’s very different from film, as you point out. Your illustrations are adorable. I look forward to reading about Kat and Juju.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Congratulations, Kataneh! I am fascinated by your comments about the difficulties you’ve encountered in your career. Can’t imagine your story ideas and designs were stolen. You certainly have overcome so many odds because of your talents, determination and spirit! I love your new book, Kat and Juju! It looks adorable. I enjoyed the tips you shared about writing and illustrating. What a gift!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your comment about creating a picture book being a team effort. I am getting better of getting go of my ‘darlings’ and seeing that it takes a village to raise a picture book! I’m so glad Kataneh persevered – look at the brilliant stories, both in print and animated, she has brought to the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Remember you have wings and can fly high,” said Juju to Kat.

    What an amazing lesson for our youth, and even for the young at heart. You are truly an inspiration and I can’t wait to see the difference Kat and Juju make in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So much of being part of children’s literature, as an author or illustrator (or combo) requires flexiblity and trust. Knowing when and how to accept change and when to stick to your guns. I look forward to reading this book. Thanks for a great interview & introduction, Beth.

    Liked by 1 person

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