If there was anyone who embodied Joan Didion’s theory “we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” it would be Jessica Laurel Kane.
“Stories are the main means of communication between my son and I,” Kane said.
It’s inspired her to write, illustrate and perform many children's stories, including “The Butterfly Who was Afraid to Fly," “The Bird Who Ate the Cell Phone” and, most recently, several micro-fiction pieces. The artist-turned-author offers many of these audio books and stories to parents and children on her website for free, something she’s been thanked for time and time again.
Kane weaves quirky characters into subtle life lessons on everything from bravery to why kindness matters. While the stories can be fantastical, they’re often conceptualized during the long (and mundane) commute from Kane’s home on Brant Lake to her son Brautigan's school in Saratoga Springs.
“Every day after school, there’s something to talk about,” Kane said. Whether it's a playground bully or something funny he noticed at recess, Brautigan tells Kane about it through a story. Some are silly (with scenes of clowns and unicycles or snail race judges), others touch on tough topics which would have been difficult for Brautigan to bring up otherwise. The stories bring endless entertainment during the long ride and bring them closer together.
“We [are] just delighted to hear these stories,” Kane said.
So she and Brautigan began to write them down and create what they’re calling micro-fiction for kindergarteners. After they’ve written a story (usually after a long ride), Kane creates an illustration which Brautigan critiques. They plan to curate 50 of those stories and illustrations into a book in the next few months. Many of the stories and illustrations can be viewed for free on Kane’s website, but readers can also pre-order the book.
Although Kane has only been writing/illustrating children’s books for the last few years, she’s worked as an artist for most of her life: doing animation work to sculpting to working as a special effects makeup assistant on Broadway productions like “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” But things changed a bit when moved upstate a few years ago and gave birth to Brautigan.
“I would just have these bursts of inspiration,” Kane said. Instead of creating sculptural work, Kane kept coming up with ideas and illustrations for children’s stories.
With a bit of a push from her mother and her family, Kane decided to start writing and illustrating, and recording what would eventually become “A Dog Called Dapper” and “There’s No Time To Count Infinity,” “The Butterfly Who Was Afraid to Fly,” along with many others.
She began a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 to help fund the project and raised over $3,000.
“I find it encouraging to be supported by a community,” Kane said, “Having people support the project was really inspiring.”
For each story, Kane created one illustration and a dramatic reading. She offers the audio on her website for free.
“I wanted people to listen to the stories so badly,” Kane said. She loved audio books growing up in Ohio, ones with one illustration so she could imagine the rest of the story herself.
Shortly after she released the books, Kane started receiving letters and notes from parents.
One mom said that her daughter has been in need of some reassurance lately and Kane’s stories did the trick.
“Your stories bring true comfort. Because she started kindergarten this year, the world has become a much bigger and scarier place,” wrote the mom in a letter.
Others have reached out to thank Kane for the stories as well and Kane hopes that the micro-fiction stories that she and Brautigan are working on will continue to create that comfort and for children and parents alike.
To listen to Kane’s stories or to read the micro-fiction pieces, visit jessicalaurelkane.com.