UNION, NJ — When the COVID-19 pandemic required people to stay in their houses in 2020, then 6-year-old McKenzie Rae Mitchell of Union Township, who attends St. Theresa School in Kenilworth, passed the time by drawing on the blank pages of booklets given to her by her mother, Takeyer Mitchell. Takeyer Mitchell had given the booklets to her daughter as a way to keep her busy, never knowing that McKenzie’s hobby would soon turn into her first published book.
“The book is about winter,” McKenzie said on Sunday, Oct. 24. “I like winter because I like to play in the snow. (Younger kids should read my book) because it’s really fun and it’s a scavenger hunt. You can look around for the things that you see in the book, like snow angels, snowmen, winter coats, etc. It was my idea to make the story a scavenger hunt.”
Mitchell said she was surprised that her daughter had planned for the book to be a scavenger hunt and not just a simple children’s book.
Mitchell said that a classmate of her daughter had little books with blank pages in them for drawing and, when McKenzie requested some books for herself, she bought them for her.
“I had no idea what she was doing with them, but I knew that she was following this YouTube channel at the time where they taught her how to illustrate, because she kept calling herself an illustrator,” said Mitchell on Sunday, Oct. 24. “So she would draw these pictures and would draw them from the back to the front. This was all her sitting at the table, drawing, doodling and writing sentences. My husband encouraged her to start from the front to the back and make a book out of it. Then she used her words that she learned in kindergarten and in first grade and she created this book.
“It’s interesting, because I didn’t realize it was a scavenger hunt,” she continued. “But it is full of sentences that all begin with ‘Do you see,’ which would make sense now, with where she was going with it, but I had no idea. I just learned that she was thinking of the story as a scavenger hunt. Now, when you read the book, it’s definitely geared toward a kindergartener, a first-grader or maybe even a second-grader. But readers would read ‘Do you see’ and it’s the picture. Readers would have to look to see if they see it. She would draw the pictures and have her sentences there. That’s how this started.
“McKenzie had asked if we can turn this into a real book, and I told her let’s see if we can,” Mitchell said. “She had so many of them. There were about three or four stories. My favorite was her story about ice cream. She had a whole story about ice cream, and I thought it was the cutest.”
‘I Love Winter, How About You?’ was self-published through Amazon.
“My friend ordered the book, and she brought it to our house so McKenzie can autograph it, and she was reading the sentences and she was looking for the pictures.”
According to Mitchell, when McKenzie returned to school and brought her work to read to her teacher and classmates, this caused a jump in other students bringing books they had written to school to read to their classmates as well.
“When the other kids did that, McKenzie was not very happy about that,” Mitchell said. “She wasn’t too happy about other kids copying her, but I had to explain to her that that’s the role of a leader. … After that, she took the situation better and made it a more positive experience. I think it’s very good, because McKenzie and Payton attend a small, private, Catholic school and it’s an amazing school. McKenzie has been there since pre-K 4 and Payton has been there since day care. It’s very nice to see that McKenzie is influencing her classmates and also, the kids in Payton’s class, too. It’s nice to see that and also, some of the parents have been really supportive with this. People are excited and embracing this, but also, people are questioning and asking, ‘How did she do this?’
Mitchell said she thinks of her daughter, now 7, as an influencer, even to Payton, her younger sister, and Payton’s friends, all of whom also attend St. Theresa School.
“I keep telling people I had nothing to do with this,” she continued. “She came to me with this book with pictures. It makes me feel good that these are my girls and this is how they’re thinking. My husband is proud of the fact that we had gone all the way with this idea. It doesn’t matter about sales; it’s the fact that we started something with her, we finished it and she can say that she’s a published author at her age. This is something big and I want to encourage it.”
Reflecting on where her creativity has taken her, McKenzie recalled how she first got into reading and, eventually, writing her own book. YouTube, she said, played a huge role, as she is an avid viewer of the “Art For Kids Hub” on YouTube.
“My teacher in first grade read a lot of books and that inspired me,” McKenzie said. “I first began writing in first grade. I like to write words and draw, so that’s why I wanted to start writing books. A show on YouTube shows you how to draw pictures, and it helped me to draw the pictures. (Mommy made me want to write my book) because when I was stuck in the house and I was really bored, I started writing books. When we were doing it, we started writing little sketches. We kept doing it and we started doing an entire book. It made me feel good. She really inspired me.”
Witnessing the influence she has had on others, McKenzie said she hopes her published book will go far.
“I hope people will like my book,” she continued. “I think a lot of people will read it. I was excited to write my first book and nervous at the same time, because I was afraid no one would like it. My second book will be a scavenger hunt, and I think it will be published. I feel happy about wanting to write another book. I hope my family, my school and my friends read my book.”
Now, the family is working with Barnes & Noble to have the book available in their stores as well.
“I Love Winter, How About You?” is available on Amazon here.
Photos Courtesy of Takeyer Mitchell and Mark Szot