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4 Years of the Who Loves Series: New Interview with Author Jami Kaeb and Illustrator Leslie Anne

By June 20, 2022Blog

Did you know our team at The Forgotten Initiative has a children’s book series for children in foster care?

It’s true! Nearly 4 years ago now (wow, time really has flown by!), we released a new resource for the foster care community: a three-book series that conveys age-appropriate messages of love and encouragement to children in foster care. The Who Loves series includes Who Loves Baby?, a board book for children 0-3 years of age; Who Loves Me?, a book for new readers (ages 3-7) to read with an adult; and I Am Loved, a short chapter book for 7-10 year olds.

(By the way, we just posted a read-along on YouTube of Who Loves Me? Check it out!)

It’s been incredible to see this series make its way all across the nation, and hear from families who have found the books helpful for the children they’re caring for.

To celebrate that, we wanted to share a fresh interview here on our blog with Jami Kaeb (author of the Who Loves series and Executive Director here at TFI) and Leslie Anne (illustrator of the Who Loves series) to get a little behind-the-scenes into their experience developing the series, and what it’s been like since sharing the books with the public.

We additionally are running a special this month! If you use the code SUMMERREADING when grabbing one or all of the books in the series, you’ll get 10% off. You can get your copies here.

Alright, let’s dive in. Here’s our latest interview with Jami Kaeb and Leslie Anne:

Jami, let’s start here: Where did the idea for the Who Loves series come from? Had you wanted to write a children’s series for a long time?

Jami: Had I wanted to write a children’s book series? No! 😊 Haha! It was not in the plan; however, this seems to be par for the course in my life. I’m continually learning to expect the unexpected as God is continually surprising me!

I think the idea really originated from the fact that there is so much hurt and brokenness surrounding our kids in foster care, and this can feel incredibly defeating and even cause inaction due to the needs feeling too big. Our team at TFI wanted to present a different perspective, another way of thinking. The truth is: Because of Jesus, beauty can rise out of brokenness. We wanted to reframe the narrative that our kids are unloved and uncared for. The reality is: there are SO many people who care, and we wanted to highlight this fact.

Additionally, we were not seeing a lot of stories or books written specifically for kids in foster care and we wanted to give them books and pictures that truly mirrored their lives. We were also passionate about providing the opportunity to help others better understand what it’s like to be a child in foster care: We want to encourage compassion that leads to action.

What would you both say was the most challenging part of putting together the Who Loves series?

Jami: My greatest challenge was wanting to create a story that felt authentic to a child’s story. One that would truly resonate with their feelings, emotions, and circumstances and bring them validation and a path towards healing. I had a great team around me who helped edit, provide insight, feedback, and helped me brainstorm when I felt stuck! This book was a total team effort: I really believe we accomplished something beautiful together.

Leslie: Two things come to mind:

Color. Trying to figure out how to get the type of color and feel that I wanted because the only type of illustrations I had done before were hand-drawn black and white images that were scanned in and then color was added once it was on Photoshop. It was important to me to make the color in this project more authentic by using paint and color pencils instead of only computer-generated colors.

And if I’m honest, time management! I pulled maybe about 5 all-nighters where I distinctly remembering being on the floor surrounded by illustrations and paint, while Gilmore Girls played in the background. That was all part of the process, and I’m so proud of how it came together!

Leslie, do you have a favorite illustration you made in the series?

Leslie: I’m not sure I have one favorite; however, the thing that comes to mind are the illustrations of the main characters. Mainly in Who Loves Baby? and Who Loves Me?. When I drew the first image of the baby and the little girl, I remember thinking, “Oh I LOVE these little characters!” The images really came to life for me!

Why was this project important to you? What do you hope the Who Loves series provides for the children who read it (or have it read to them)?

Jami: This project matters to me for many reasons, both personally and professionally. My passion and life’s work revolves around caring for people who feel misunderstood, isolated, and forgotten. My heart breaks for our nation’s kids in care and I so desperately want to reach them, to show them they are seen, valued, and loved. This is one way I felt I could extend my arms out to them.

Personally, three of my kids came to us through foster care and two others joined our family through adoption. Pieces of their stories and experiences (with their permission) are interwoven throughout the pages of these stories. I have learned so much through them and also because of time spent in counseling with them and on my own. It was an awesome opportunity to pass along some of what I’ve learned and hopefully continue to validate my own kids as they experience big emotions (and as I do too!). These books have continued to refine my perspective and I pray they will continue to benefit others as well.

Leslie: Orphans, kids in foster care, the outsider, the person who feels overlooked in any capacity is where most of my passions lie. I think partially because I relate to feelings of being the outsider or like I don’t belong at times. I think many of us experience these feelings, but I hurt especially for those who are vulnerable.

To be a part of something that puts words and images to an experience that connects to a child in foster care is a privilege and I hope these books help them feel more seen and understood. I also hope the stories help caregivers and others better grasp what it’s like to be a child navigating foster care.

So ultimately, I hope children who read these books gain a sense of belonging and know they are not alone. I hope these stories help them realize that experiencing confusing feelings in foster care is a common enough thing that someone made a book series about it. And I hope that a child might see that there can still be good in the midst of all the hard.

What’s the most encouraging response or feedback you’ve heard since the book series was launched in 2018?

Jami: We’ve received several pictures and notes of kids throughout our nation reading these books and that is always incredible and so humbling! I’ve also heard from parents who’ve seen these books help encourage conversations and bring healing and I couldn’t ask for more!!

Leslie: Hearing from people who specifically resonated with the illustrations is special. I remember someone sharing with me how they could really see and feel what the characters were experiencing. This was huge to me because this was my goal: To bring these characters to life in a way that connected with the heart.

We love this series, and we hope you do too! Interested in getting the Who Loves series on your bookshelf? Click here to learn all about each of the books and order yours. Oh, and don’t forget to use the code SUMMERREADING for 10% off!

Mitch Nelson

Whether he is drinking coffee or designing graphics, Mitch is always looking for new ways The Forgotten Initiative can grow. His background includes working as a Creative Arts and Communications Director on various levels at a local church. He and his wife Becky were married in April of 2018, and together they enjoy camping, live music, black coffee, and good books.

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