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PROFILE: Mother-Daughter Team Creates Children's Book

Two alums bring the story of San Francisco's famous sea lions to the younger set.

Date: 4/7/2003 8:00:00 AM
By: Eric Lose Other Contact: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover
UC ingot Sooner or later, nearly all parents think they have the idea for the perfect children's book, but just never seem to get around to writing it. Then there are those few who just get busy and go do it, like University of Cincinnati alumni Kat Shehata and Jo McElwee, who used their educations and turned their authoring aspirations into a hardcover reality.


Shehata (A&S, 2000) and McElwee (RWC, 1997) are a mother-daughter team who recently published a children's book that has earned accolades and awards for its writing and illustrations. After a little inspirational help from a palm reader, their book "San Francisco's Famous Sea Lions" was published in September 2002. It has sold well in the Bay area and is featured nationally in the Independent Publishers Group's 2003 catalogue.

Shehata ran her own promotions business but deep down really wanted to be a writer. "I decided I just couldn't be a successful writer while working another full-time job," said Shehata, "so I decided to quit and pursue the writing career. After that everything sort of fell into place."

While visiting her brother in San Francisco and watching the sea lions cavorting near Pier 39, Shehata thought, " Wow my step-daughters would really like a book about these guys."  She walked into a nearby bookstore and asked if there were any books about the sea lions she had been watching.  The seller told her ‘no,’ there was nothing written about these sea lions. Thinking quickly, she asked: "If I write one, will you buy it?"  The shop owner laughed and said, "Yes." Shehata asked several other book vendors the same question, got the same affirmative answer, then came home to Cincinnati and went to work on her idea.

Shehata began work on the storyline and text and did not have to look far for an illustrator. "My mother is a Society of Illustrators award winner. It was a natural pairing, because we'd always been in cahoots saying, 'One day we'll work together on something.'"

It took Shehata and McElwee little more than a year to finish the book. About the time they were ready to publish the book, Shehata paid a visit to a Mount Adams palm reader. "I did it for fun with my husband," she said. "She told me I had a writing angel named Bea, and I thought 'Okay, sure, whatever you say.'" Shehata told her mother of the reading and then learned her great-grandmother was a writer named Bea. The two formed Angel Bea Publishing and set about to sell their sea lion story.

The Marine Mammal Center, which is mentioned in the book, was the first outlet to purchase "San Francisco's Famous Sea Lions." Shehata got them to preorder 500 copies, and they reordered 1,000 more two months later. Inspired by their initial success Shehata said, "I just went to San Francisco, put my baby in the stroller and went door to door selling my book to shop owners on Pier 39. Shehata and McElwee have had a 100 percent reorder rate on the book, with most stores doubling and tripling their initial order.

Brisk initial sales and excellent reviews garnered more attention for the book. "San Francisco's Famous Sea Lions" was one of five picture books featured in the Independent Publishers Group spring catalogue. Shehata and McElwee are busy working on their next book scheduled for release in fall 2003, "Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral: the Greatest Horse Race in History."

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