Five questions with Kristin Kelly

8 May 2024

Joy Cowley Award-winning author Kristin Kelly is about to release a new picture book, Mitchell Itches, about a boy growing up with eczema. An ex-nurse who moved into primary teaching after having children, Kristin initially started writing books when she found there was nothing available about certain topics she wanted to bring into her classroom.

I caught up with Kristin to ask her a few questions about her writing process, eczema and her publishing journey.

What inspired the story of Mitchell Itches? Do you or one of your family members suffer from eczema?

I wrote the story of Mitchell Itches for a boy in my class who had eczema. He had just come back from a stint in hospital and his arms were bandaged and I knew the rest of the class would be curious. I went looking for a children’s book about eczema but couldn’t find one, so I wrote Mitchell Itches as a class book. I wanted this child to see himself in a book as capable, funny and strong – he was – he just happened to have eczema. I also wanted the other children in my class to get an understanding of what this common condition is like.

I felt well qualified to write the book as eczema is our family brand. I have had lifelong eczema, as do two of my children, my mum, my cousins, my grandmother and probably my ancestors. There is a strong genetic link. I also began my working life as a nurse, switching to teaching when I had children. I have a lived understanding of what it is like to have eczema.

How do you work with your illustrator? Is it collaborative, or do you work separately?

Working with Amelina was both collaborative and separate. It was important to me to accurately represent eczema and Amelina was open to any changes that needed to be made. I love the expression she was able to give Mitchell on each page that lets the reader know exactly how Mitchell is feeling. Amelina works from Spain and I work from Whangarei, so we were physically separate, but there was lots of connection via the publisher.

What do you hope children take away from reading Mitchell Itches?

Stories have the power to transform us, and I wanted children with eczema to feel seen, understood and celebrated for the daily effort it takes to manage their condition. Eczema does not have a profile, it is hidden away, and yet it is so common. For children with eczema to see themselves represented in books lets them know that they matter just as much as any other child, they are not invisible.

I also wanted children who do not have eczema to step into Mitchell’s life and experience what it is like to live childhood differently. Empathy builds understanding.


Do you write exclusively for children or across age groups?

I write exclusively for children because that’s been my audience for the past 25 years. If I can’t find a book to teach a topic, I’ll write it for my class. You soon learn what works and what doesn’t. Five-year-olds can quickly drift off with a long-winded story which can be very humbling.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a book about a child with allergies, another topic dear to my heart. Eczema and allergies go hand in hand.

I have a book The Squeakling (Scholastic) due out later this year which won the Joy Cowley Award, 2023, and another book Verity Finds Her Voice (EK Books) due out early 2025. The COVID lockdowns gave me the opportunity to look into publication, hence the timing, but I only wish I'd started seeing myself as an author earlier. Seeing writing as my main work has helped me reset my priorities.