A distinctively different ABC picture book written by Kansas City author and artist, LeAnne Litka released in late September to much praise. What’s That Sound? took Litka four years to produce, but the story behind the creation of the book goes much deeper. A long season of difficulty led to the conception.
“Before I started to work on this book, I had a very tough time. I found myself in an exhausting hours-long pattern of driving my husband to work, kids to school, myself to work, and then repeating that in the late afternoon. The situation wore me down emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In addition, I hadn’t written or done anything artistic in a very long time. I spent a lot of time praying for strength to keep going,” shared Litka.
On a whim to pass the hours spent carpooling, she listened to Julia Cameron’s book, The Prosperous Heart. “Although I was already trying to concentrate on the things that I could change in myself to be more grateful, Julia’s book challenged me to begin the habit of writing morning pages every day.”
That simple adjustment led her to make writing a priority. Each day began with her waking up effortlessly at 4 a.m. to write three pages a day. In addition, she made an art appointment for herself in the evenings. It allowed her to establish a writing and art schedule that assisted in her creative thinking, which then also led to another breakthrough.
— LeAnne Litka (@LeanneLitka) December 17, 2020
“Years prior one of my sons had a difficult time learning the alphabet and learning to read. This was actually the beginning of my writing journey. I didn’t know it at the time,” stated Litka.
As her family grew, Litka was working as a paraprofessional educational assistant in various school districts, first in Olathe and later in the Kansas City Metro Area. Time after time, she saw other youngsters dealing with the same difficulties her son had in learning the alphabet and how to read.
“Standing in classrooms watching students, I was in awe of all the little things that needed to fall into place for a child to become a reader. I noticed where some of the disconnects were happening with kids like my son. During my carpooling days, there was a little boy who reminded me of him. I spent a lot of time thinking and praying about how I could help. One day on a long car ride, the first lines of the book came to me in a song, as if they were downloaded to my brain straight from heaven. I stopped the car, wrote them down, and started on the book the next day.”
Thus the seeds were planted for the creation of the book.
“The words to the book came easily. I knew what I needed to do to help build a bridge for young children. I wanted to show that letters have a name and that they represent sound. A shorter phrase, one that teachers use, is creating phonemic awareness. I wanted to make the book interactive and fun. I did that by creating funny pictures to pair up with the letters that would appeal to young children. I also wanted the book to have beautiful textures to encourage little eyes to linger a bit longer on the page.” stated Litka.
Uniquely helpful to different learning styles, this book includes smart visual cues to help readers discover beginning, middle, and ending sounds of words, it cleverly illustrates the idea that some letters represent more than one sound.
“During my school day, I love being able to witness the moment of connection! It’s when the light bulb goes on and I can see that tiny bridge that needed to be built for a student. Witnessing that opens up my heart and fills it with joy! I believe What’s That Sound? will do that for every child! This book is for every beginning reader. I made it so that teachers and parents can have something for the readers who are struggling. Since words are limited and a student can read it without assistance. It is perfect for students who need a little privacy and extra attention, to get those basic skills,” stated Litka.
Simple and neat, this book provides beautiful, time-tested objects and characters that become easily recognizable silhouettes allowing students to connect sounds from everyday spoken words to their partnered consonants and vowels.
“I wanted to be able to combine all of the unwritten things a kindergartener and first grade student would learn, and put that into a format so that if they needed extra time and help in order to learn these things, they could do it at home on their own, at their own time and pace. Sometimes the best learning takes place in those quiet moments alone when the book is really making sense to the young reader. It doesn’t always happen when a teacher is explaining everything to all of the students at once. When a young reader can connect with what they are learning, and are able to use it independently to learn to conquer new sounds,” explained Litka.
That introduced the fun, yet extremely challenging part of creating the book.
“I wanted to make the book really interactive and fun. I did that through creating and finding funny pictures to pair up with the letters that would appeal to young children. I also wanted the book to have beautiful textures to work with in their steps to making progress,” stated Litka.
That textural goal presented her with a few problems. Originally, the letters for the book were being cut out and pasted, but they all had smoothed edges, and didn’t really grab Litka’s attention. If it wasn’t grabbing her attention, it wouldn’t grab a young child’s. So, she started roughing up the edges of the letters, with a craft-style cutting pattern.
“This was something a young reader could register through touch, and also understand that when they are writing a letter, especially in the beginning, it may not be all smooth edged and perfect. And that is perfectly acceptable!” exclaimed Litka.
The shapes and textures playfully engage young readers, inviting fingers to trace the letters. The book has many opportunities for eyes to move from left to right mimicking the act of reading on their own.
“This book is for every beginning reader. I made it so that teachers and parents can have something for the readers who are struggling, who need a little privacy and extra attention, to get their basic skills and learn to be a leader in class,” stated Litka.
Although creating the monoprint textures for the backgrounds proved to be her most difficult challenge, Litka is absolutely beaming when you ask her about what her greatest reward is from writing and illustrating the book.
“I love being able to witness that moment of connection! It’s when the light bulb goes on, and you can see that tiny bridge that needed to be built in order for that reader to make the connection between the letters, the words, and the sounds. To be able to have that moment, when they see and recognize it, and then are able to move on, that simply opens up my heart and fills it with joy!”
Litka still works part-time as a para professional in education. She hopes to be able to move to working full-time on her writing and artwork next year.
Flying Ketchup Press, located in North Kansas City, Missouri, is the publisher of Litka’s book What’s That Sound? At the heart and soul of Flying Ketchup Press is Polly Alice McCann, the managing editor. Polly is responsible for the direction of each publication process and also makes sure that their authors receive ongoing support. Polly herself is an author, artist, and illustrator with a passion for helping creatives reach a wider audience with their work.
“Isn’t it time to create a 21st-century publishing model that works for today’s artists? It’s time to catch up! At Flying Ketchup Press, we believe that every author has a story to tell, and that every story deserves to be told. That’s why our motto is ‘Epic Acceleration!’ We work with our writers every step of the way on their literary journey, helping to bring out the best quality. From dream, to draft, to publication; from sketch, to illustration, and design, Flying Ketchup Press helps our authors and artists produce high quality publications and illustrated products,” said McCann.