Songwriter, Author & Mom Laurel Nakai Joins the Team!
The KidLit TV team is happy to announce our newest family member Laurel Nakai, a children’s author and singer-songwriter. She founded Paper Dove Press, a publishing company that specializes in interfaith books, through which she published her first picture book, The World God Made for Me.
Learn more about Laurel in this interview and be sure to sing along with her amazing introduction video!
What is your greatest joy as an author and songwriter?
As a songwriter, the coolest thing is when someone sings along to one of my songs. I love performing. I love that interaction with an audience. There’s really nothing like it. As an author, it’s been really exciting to hear feedback from parents and kids about how much they enjoy my work. I love the idea of a parent and child snuggled up together sharing a few precious moments reading. If my book is a part of that, what better honor is there?
As a mother how do you find time to work on passion projects?
I often get asked this question, and I sometimes wonder if people are looking for some magic tip that hasn’t already been discovered. I have a lot of help. We live in a three-generation household with my husband’s parents. My husband is extremely supportive. Saturday is “Daddy Day” in our house, which means Daddy takes the kids, and Mommy gets a day off to write, play, or just binge watch Netflix (sometimes you just need a day)!
I try not to worry about the time I don’t have, and focus on the time I do have. If it’s an hour during naptime or 20 minutes before the rest of the family wakes up, then that’s what I work with. If it’s important enough, you find the time. I can jot down a few rhymes or an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head while I wait in the car pool line. If that’s the only creative thing I accomplish that day, it’s still more than I had the day before. As the kids have gotten older and more independent, I’m able to carve out larger chunks of time. I feel lucky that I’m able to do a lot of work from home and be with them, but I also know that I am a better mother when I am doing the things that I am really passionate about. I think it’s important to model that for them so that they have a path to follow when it’s time for them to pursue their own dreams.
Tell us about your history with songwriting. We’d love to know more about your adventures!
Songwriting has taken me on some adventures for sure! I remember making up songs when I was really young, even before I could read or write. When I was growing up, there was this spot in the woods behind my house where I would just go and sing. Sometimes I would sing familiar songs, but a lot of times, I would just make something up on the spot about whatever I was feeling. It’s always been a natural way for me to express myself. I used to write terrible poetry, too. Isn’t all poetry at that age terrible! I’ve always thought of songwriting as a form of poetry.
Learning guitar made all the pieces fall into place. I received my first acoustic as a Christmas gift when I was 13. I took a few years of lessons, but my parents ran a summer camp, and I learned a lot just by playing songs around the campfire. By 15, I was lugging my guitar to school to play in talent shows and writing songs for school projects. I always got As on those projects! I had a band for a while with a few of my friends. It was a Christian band called Sanctified. We were pretty popular at church picnics.
In college I went solo and played at open mics and events. I even traveled across the country for an arts festival in Los Angeles. One of the most surreal experiences was being a part of a Mr. and Miss University Pageant and performing in a palace in South Korea. One of my proudest performance experiences though, was busking in a piazza in Rome during my study abroad there. I made 20 Euro in less than an hour. It was enough for some pizza and a train ticket to the airport to get me home. I was completely broke. I highly recommend street performing to any musician; it’s an incredibly exhilarating and eye-opening experience.
After school, I did a year of AmeriCorps in Paterson, NJ, where I formed a music club for the high school students at the school where I volunteered. The next three years I worked at another teen center where I ran after school programs. I created a few open mics for the kids there, and continued to play at local events and venues.
The year that my first son was born, I joined the music ministry team for Lovin’ Life Ministries. It was a huge worship service that rented out the Grand Ballroom in the Manhattan Center on 34th street in Manhattan. I performed with the band Sonic Cult with a full background choir. It was like being forged through fire. The schedule was intense, but I learned a lot and got to work alongside some wonderful musicians and mentors.
I eventually left to stay home with my then one-year-old. During that time my second son was born, and I began focusing more on writing books rather than songs. I got involved with the local kidlit scene through SCBWI, began attending conferences and events, and eventually self-published my first interfaith picture book, The World God Made for Me.
Music was still a big part of my life, but it was more about bedtime songs than rock shows. I did help my musician husband with his solo album, though. I helped write a few of the songs and added my voice to some of the tracks, but it was more his project. I think I needed that time to rest and refocus. I actually wasn’t sure if I would continue doing music again in any kind of professional capacity. But now it’s coming back full circle. Combining my love of music and books feels so natural, but I couldn’t have ever foreseen it back when I first picked up a guitar.
What other hidden talents do you have?
I compulsively make origami. Mostly paper cranes, sometimes flowers. I can make them out of receipts, candy wrappers, any little scrap of paper. I have a bunch of cranes on my desk right now that are made out of the sheets from my daily tear off calendar. If you find a paper crane lying around after I’ve left your house, that was me. It’s a gift! I sometimes make them out of the paper napkin holders at restaurants and leave them with the tip for the server.
Tell our audience what you’ll be doing as a KidLit TV team member!
I had a lot of fun creating the theme song for the newest show, Ready Set Draw! I love doing collaborations like that where the whole team contributes their talents to make the finished product. I think there are many ways to use music as a vehicle to inspire learning. I am excited to explore those ideas and make a contribution through my music along with the amazing team at KidLit TV.