WRADvocate Profile: JoAnn Kairys

JoAnn Kairys is an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books.

She is the founder of a website called StoryQuest Children's Books, a site that connects children with science and nature. She co-authored a book with her son Daniel, a general surgeon in south central Florida. JoAnn believes strongly in celebrating the rich cultural diversity of our lives and heritage. She is deeply committed to eco-friendly and child safe products, and her books are lead-free and made in the USA.

Passionate about storytelling, she will be reading to children on the inpatient unit at the K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital in Neptune, New Jersey, in celebration of World Read Aloud Day. We're happy to have her on board as a WRADvocate! Read more about her below:


1. Can you share some of your earliest memories of reading and how they impacted you?

I was fascinated by picture books long before I could read. I stayed up long after bedtime, just looking at the beautiful illustrations in picture books that my older sister brought home from the library. I had a soft cover version of "Beauty and the Beast," and couldn't take my eyes away from the vivid colors. My sister taught me a few letters, and that was all I needed to get started reading on my own. I was about 4 years old. Little did I realize that many years later, creating children's picture books for my grandchildren would become a true passion. From those earliest books, a lifetime of joyful reading unfolded.

2. How has what you've read influenced you professionally?

As an early reader, I developed a love of writing. Professionally, I became a medical/science writer, with many first-authored articles published in leading peer-reviewed journals. As my technical writing skills developed, I realized that even the most data-driven, and what might be considered "dry" writing, must tell a compelling story!

3. What advice would you give to teachers, parents and caregivers who want to reach their struggling readers?

 I taught English to underserved high school students with reading challenges. I had no formal training in special education, but loved sharing stories. I used music to help engage my classes. I told them the basic story and we acted out "Romeo and Juliet" in the classroom with music of the students' choice. Everyone participated. Then we read parts of the play they expressed the most interest in. This was fun and a great way to bring students into reading without "making" them read.  They were already hooked on the story.

4. It is said that stories and poems teach values. Is there one value in particular that has inspired your life and your good work that might connect back to a book that was either read to you or that you read on your own?

As an early reader I devoured just about every book I could get from the library. A turning point was "Little Women"--my first "big" book. I loved the characters, their interactions and their love of storytelling. Mostly, I loved the focus on family and the playful sisters. I have two older sisters, so the story was especially appealing. The value of "family" jumped off the pages for me -- perhaps simplistically at first. But, looking back, I understand how this inspired my desire to write. I've had the good fortune to travel extensively as a health care professional. In every country, I visit schools and medical centers. In Russia, I visited many orphanages and read to children in Russian and English, with books donated by US organizations. No surprise, then, that I love writing for my grandchildren, creating stories about their loving relationships with each other and family.

5. Will you share with us some final meditations on the power of the read aloud and of reading in general to the emotional lives of children and for all people?

For me, the power of reading is interacting and sharing thoughts, impressions and wonderfully expressive vocabulary. Even without a book in hand, we read aloud through conversation, using the experience of the moment: at a check out counter, waiting at a red light, doing the most mundane things... we make up stories. The more animated I am, the more the children are engaged and jump in. Some of my grandkids are trilingual, so we mix up words and phrases in fun ways. We sing a lot. We're just plain silly. The best question they can ask me is, "Can we do that again?" When I hear them laughing and truly enjoying the experience, it's the best music to my ears!

Learn more about JoAnn's work by visiting her on her website, StoryQuest Children's Books: