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New Children’s Series Lets Kids Speak For Themselves

'Gnat and Corky' Series Takes Inspiration From Kids' Thoughts, Stories Via Online Questionnaire

gnat and corky
Photo courtesy of Natalie Sorrentino

A new children’s book series is letting kids speak for themselves.

And their emotions are much deeper than they’re given credit for, said Natalie Sorrentino, illustrator of the “Gnat and Corky” children’s book series with author Courtney Kotloski.

Kids have the most profound emotion,” Sorrentino said.

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“They can absorb and think very big, very broadly, very boldly,” Kotloski added. “And it’s something to be respected and something to be shared.”

The “Gnat and Corky” series, which is a collection of 16 books (three of which have been released), takes its inspiration from stories and thoughts kids share via their online questionnaire.

The page features questions like, “If you could make any invention, what would it be and how does it work?” “What is the kindest thing you’ve ever done?” and “What do the stars do when the day comes?”

Photo courtesy of Natalie Sorrentino

Kotloski, who lives in Antioch, Illinois, and Sorrentino, who lives in Brookfield, then build a story around answers that pop out from the responses. Their most recent book, “Will It,” came from a boy’s response to the question, “Why was the world created?”

“So simply … he said, ‘So we can live on it,’” Kotloski said. “But it’s exploring that a little bit deeper.”

Will Barr, the boy the book is based on, has Bardet-Biedl syndrome which causes retinal degeneration and could lead to blindness. Kotloski said the book isn’t about blindness at all, but rather courage and overcoming fear.

“What are you waiting for?” Kotloski asked. “Really the very worst thing that could happen is that it’s too late, you never do those things that you’re meant to do, that you allow fear to overcome your ability to move forward.”

The first book in the series was published in June.

Kotloski and Sorrentino met through Sorrentino’s husband, who was Kotloski’s boss, and have been creative partners ever since.

“I said, ‘Let’s sit down and talk through these characters and I’ll walk away, I’ll write some stories and here’s the deal, if you hate them, we can pretend we never met. But if you love them, we’ll see what we can do,’” Kotloski said.

Sorrentino had been looking for the right voice to fit her quirky illustrations for years, she said.

“I’ll never forget how it felt,” Sorrentino said. “I just started crying and I called her and I said, ‘It’s the voice.’ The voice has been found and she’s been my creative little soul sister ever since.”

Sorrentino describes her illustrations as a “combination of color and whimsy and quirk,” drawing inspiration from Charles Schulz, Tim Burton and the “sweetness” of watercolor artist Masha D’yans.

Kotloski and Sorrentino are constantly surprised and moved by the submissions, they said, which makes it difficult to choose what to pursue. The duo is working on a book that celebrates answers they’ve collected from kids about their lives and the world.

“Our hearts just melt,” Sorrentino said. “But as fun as it is, it almost breaks our heart. So we just wanted to find a way to honor every one of those children who take the time to sit down in front of the computer.”

Their next release centers around Sorrentino’s daughter and considers what would happen if the world lost its color.