Sunday, May 3, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Kat Harrison

Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog! 
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

Congratulations to Kat Harrison on the release of her new book, Surgery on Sunday! 

Congratulations on the release of Surgery on Sunday! What inspired this book?

I grew up in and out of the hospital. As I’ve gotten older and my health story has grown more complex, I’ve come to realize that we need to do a better job of talking to kids about the tough stuff in life. Surgery on Sunday is the book I wish would’ve existed when I was younger. Surgeries (I’ve had 14 to date) and hospital stays are chock-full of unknowns and a lot of the material out there, while helpful, is more brochure-like or written by a well-meaning, healthy adult or a medical professional. I wanted to create a book that had both levity and realism, playfulness and honesty -- all from a patient perspective.

What did the publication process and publisher responses to your book look like?

I shopped the book around to many agents, editors and small presses. I pitched at conferences, on Twitter and did manuscript critiques. Most of the rejections went a little something like this: “We love your writing. We love your story. But there isn’t a business for kid’s books about surgery.” I eventually went on to have a R & R with a prominent publisher that stemmed from a manuscript critique I had at the SCBWI LA conference. Ultimately, the decision was the same – lovely book but not marketable. I then went onto sign with Warren Publishing, a hybrid publisher, who never doubted me nor the story. When UK-based artist Shane Crampton agreed to the project…well I don’t have enough celebratory emojis for that. (You can see more of Shane’s incredible work here.)

What advice would you give to an author who’s been told their story is too “niche” or not marketable?

You are your book’s biggest champion. When publishing professionals first began telling me that my book was too specific for any kind of market, it stung. It was like presenting a paper mache model of my heart and watching the colorful tissue dissolve underneath gobs of off-brand glue. But over time, I learned I just needed to keep going. Your story will find a home and its readers, but you have to keep believing – even if, and especially when, others don’t. No one else can do that for you.

How have your personal experiences with illness and surgery influenced how and why you wrote this book?

I am disabled and live with bilateral vestibular loss and oscillopsia (AKA I wobble and can’t feel rollercoasters!). I’ve also been diagnosed with chronic, daily migraine and a rare headache condition called SUNCT Syndrome. All that goes to say – illness is what I eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and then some. It’s all I’ve known for a very long time and it dictates every single decision I make. My main goal for Sunday’s story was to write a book that was realistic to the hospital process. The majority of the story takes place in pre-op and post-op and I’m so proud of that. Many picture books shy away from things like veins and IVs – and that always felt hollow and misleading to me as a child.

I love Octavia the octopus! Why did you go with an octopus as Sunday’s BFF and favorite stuffed animal?

Octavia was inspired by a dog stuffed animal I had as a kid. It had arms long enough to hug you. When I would go in for a surgery, the dog would come to the reception desk and get a hospital bracelet just like mine. It was important to me for Sunday to have a companion too. Since she’s a lover of all-things oceanic, an octopus seemed like a natural fit. (And yes, Octavia gets a hospital bracelet of her own as well!)

What’s something you hope your readers take away from Surgery on Sunday

That we can all do hard things. I also hope it opens up the floor for discussions that may seem unapproachable or scary. It’s OK to acknowledge tough emotions, it’s OK to validate them. We learn more from rough edges than we do from gloss.

What’s next for you? How can readers learn more about you and your work?

Fingers crossed that I won’t be entering an operating room anytime soon! But writing-wise, I am working on a few other health-esque picture book manuscripts. I also hope to really expand my marketing efforts for Surgery on Sunday when and if the world opens back up again. Do you know what it’s like to launch a book during a pandemic? 0/10, would not recommend.

You can follow my antics on Instagram here and visit my website here.

A little bit about the book:

Sunday – a kid with an ocean-sized imagination – is nervous about her upcoming ear surgery. Mom and Dad tell her to put on a brave face, but how can she when she has so many questions? Will it be scary? Will it hurt? (And what does it mean to put on a brave face anyway?) When surgery day rolls around, Sunday’s stomach is in knots like a triple-tied shoelace. But thankfully, she has her BFF, Octavia the Octopus by her side. With the additional help of a few “rules,” her parents, kind doctors and nurses, she soon learns surgery isn’t so scary after all. It actually makes her feel a whole lot better!

Written with spunk, humor, and a lot of love, Surgery on Sunday teaches kids they can be brave, even when it’s hard.

A little bit about the author:

Kat Harrison is a writer, editor, and chronic illness advocate from Michigan. Her writing has been featured in various print and online outlets such as Real Simple, New York Family, The Mighty, and Yahoo. She keeps her sense of humor thanks to an incalculable amount of coffee and brightly colored headbands. Surgery on Sunday is her debut picture book. She hopes you love it as much as her dog does.


  1. Congrats to Kat on her new book. Love the illustrations that she shared. And this sounds like a great book for kids who have to go to the hospital.

    1. Thank you so much, Natalie! Shane, the illustrator, is wicked talented.

  2. Congratulations, Kat! I remember hearing you talk about your manuscript at LAST. I'm delighted it became a book.

    1. Thank you so much, Ann! It's come a long way and I'm thrilled it's out in the world.