Irvington-based sisters Risa and Rina Horiuchi recently published their first children’s alphabet book called K is for Kindness. Rina wrote the words and Risa drew the illustrations. Because Nov. 13 is World Kindness Day, River Journal asked the sisters to tell us a little more about themselves, their book and why kindness matters more than ever.
RJ: How long did it take to write and illustrate your first book?
Rina: I started experimenting with the idea for K Is for Kindness in 2017. Once I had a draft, Risa drew sketches of each scene, and we created a book dummy. Penguin Random House accepted our book in 2020, and Risa created the final color illustrations while I tweaked the text. We submitted the final work in 2021, four years after we started, and our book was published this spring.
RJ: What is your writing process like? How is it working as sisters with the different skill sets you bring?
Rina: There were many iterations of this story. The trickiest parts of the writing were the rhyme and getting the stressed syllable to fall in the right place. Each line follows the pattern, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE. “APE picks an AP-ple for ARD-vark beLOW.” Trying to get each line to work with this rhythm while rhyming and finding kid-friendly words to represent each letter was a challenge. Being sisters, it’s nice to be able to give direct feedback without any sugarcoating. I’m comfortable saying to Risa, “Those ears look funny,” and I welcome her unfiltered criticism, too.
Risa: We really value each other’s feedback and spent time revising the first drafts and sketches throughout the picture book making process. We gave each other suggestions on the writing and illustrations, particularly before submitting to our agent.
RJ: What did you both do before taking on this project?
Risa: I worked on other illustration projects, specifically I drew for Highlights magazine and a self-published picture book called Malty the Blue Tiger by K. Kloss.
Rina: I’ve been a product designer for web apps in healthcare for many years. This book was a passion project outside of my usual work.
RJ: What inspired you to write this book?
Rina: In the past several years, the news has been filled with depressing headlines of racism, violence, and oppression. It’s clear that as a society we aren’t doing a great job of supporting each other. I believe that if our society were truly based on foundations of kindness, these problems wouldn’t be as bad.
RJ: Do you have kids and how did that affect the way you approached the book?
Rina: I have a daughter who is always an inspiration for my book ideas. With K Is for Kindness, my hope is that her generation will grow up in a society filled with kindness. Also, I like to try out my stories on her and see what she has to say.
Risa: I don’t have kids but my niece has been an influence on my work. I asked for her feedback on my drawings, and she gave good suggestions.
RJ: You said you plan on writing more picture books. What’s next on the horizon?
Rina: I have many draft stories that I would love to publish. It would be great to continue this series and release more alphabet animal books on other themes. Right now, I’m very excited to write a book about the environment.
RJ: What attracted you to the River Towns to raise a family, and what are some favorite hangouts?
Risa: I have been in Irvington since 2005, and my favorite hangouts include the Black Cat Cafe, the Irvington Library, and I also enjoy going to the local parks.
Rina: I recently moved to the River Towns with my husband and daughter to be near our extended family. I appreciate the beautiful river view, walkable downtowns, and easy access to New York City. I enjoy hanging out at the waterfront parks and walking along the Aqueduct trail.