Anesa Kajtazovic is the author of a forthcoming illustrated children's book (title TBA) that offers a firsthand account of her experience as a child during the Bosnian War. Kajtazovic is also a former member of the Iowa house of Representatives.
Kajtazovic will be the featured reader at the Final Thursday Reading Series on November 17—ONE WEEK EARLIER THAN USUAL DUE TO THANKSGIVING—at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The in-person open mic takes place at 7:00 p.m., and Anesa Kajtazovic takes the stage at 7:30. Kajtazovic's reading will also be simulcast on Zoom. Click HERE to register for a Zoom link.
Interview by Jim O'Loughlin.
JIM O’LOUGHLIN: The story you tell in your book is autobiographical. How did you decide on the format of an illustrated children’s book as the way to tell your story?
ANESA KAJTAZOVIC: Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people, including educators, ask me what war was like. Like with most war survivors, it’s something that we didn’t talk much about while growing up in Iowa. It’s a topic I never felt comfortable discussing. A turning point for me was being asked in the spring of 2020 by a third grade teacher to speak to her class about my war and refugee experiences. After declining that first opportunity, I felt guilty. Something in my heart changed. I think any time we have an opportunity to educate others, especially children, we should do it. After all, how else can we expect others to understand our story and those of millions who’ve gone through something as traumatic as war?
JO: Without giving away what happens in the book, can you say a little bit about its subject?
AK: This will be one of the kinds of children’s books on a subject that is difficult to explain to children. My book will make it relatable and easy for anyone to understand how a normal life can change overnight.
JO: In putting this project together, did you find you had to do any research or speak with family members about the experience, or were you able to draw primarily from the memories you have of that time?
AK: This project is solely based on my own war experience. However, I’ve had a couple of my Bosnian friends read it, and it resonated with them as well. This is not just my story; this is a story of millions of children around the world who’ve survived war.
JO: A project like this has to involve a lot of collaboration between author and illustrator. Can you describe how that process worked?
AK: Yes, it was an extensive collaborative process with my illustrator. The most challenging part was that it was all done via writing online. We never spoke or had a meeting. It was a lengthy process, but my illustrator was able to capture my vision well.