A decade ago, Austinite Kat Kronenberg was a fitness instructor and before that got her degree from the University of Texas in merchandising and fashion. She thought she would develop a clothing line.
"My life has been an interesting change of direction," she says.
While watching the symphony, Kronenberg got an idea: to write a book for children to help them deal with their emotions.
At first, Kronenberg, 52, says she ran from the idea, but then she started reading more and getting educated about how to write children's books.
"Suddenly life wacks you over the head and you get going," she says. She knew she had a story to tell, but she didn't know how to tell it. She thought about a chapter book, a superhero book, a comic book.
When she went to Africa, she says, her story came to life. "The wildlife there is so fascinating," she says. "Wildlife is there to teach us, to give us different ideas." It offers life lessons that kids can apply to their own lives.
First came "Dream Big," and now, this year, "Love Big." Next year will be "Think Big." Three stories about a cast of animals and the roles they play in their community.
Her story came out of family members dying suddenly and tragically. Her brother died in his sleep as a teenager. Her sister died as a young mother, also in her sleep, both from an arrhythmia. Her mother had a brain aneurysm, and her father had a stroke. Both of them died within five days of the initial event.
Particularly with her brother's death, she says, she didn't have a lot of foundation for what to do when life bottoms out from under you or you have a hardship. "I didn't have the tools," she says. "I felt like I was bouncing around like a pinball."
She doesn't know why what happened to her brother and sister happened, or if it was genetics. Medically, her solution was to have a defibrillator pacemaker placed into her heart. "I didn't want my kids waking up without a mom," she says.
Her kids also include her sister's daughters, whom she's raised since they were in second and fifth grade.
She decided to honor her family members who have since passed by trying to live her best life.
In "Love Big," there is the story of the dung beetle, who lives in feces yet plays an important role in cleaning up the land for the rest of the animals. "No matter how bad your life is or (expletive), you can still be a hero," Kronenberg says is one of the lessons "Love Big" teaches.
The rhinoceros teaches that it's OK to be grumpy and have a power pout and then be nice once you've worked it out. He teaches, "We need a point to our lives," she says.
Each book has a shining star called Catch-M, who delivers lessons along the way by writing them across the sky. "Dream Big" was about believing you can be anything. "Love Big" is about being kind and believing in one another. "Think Big" will be about believing all that is, she says. For her that's a Christ-based faith.
Catch-M is all about delivering a smile. "Smiles are everywhere," Kronenberg says. You want to catch 'em. "It's such a great reminder for all of us. It changes your mood, the energy in the room."
The books also come with activities you can do at home such as creating a dream board, or creating a lion's crown to honor yourself, or making a kindness pack with your friends. More activities are online at katkronenberg.com. She also has fact sheets you can print out about each animal in her books.
Next year she'll publish "Think Big" and then work on a coloring book and a middle-grade reader. All the proceeds for her books go to three nonprofit organizations: We Day, which encourages youth charity; Donors Choose, which allows donors to choose how to fund a teacher's need; and Grameen America, which provides microloans for women.
"It's really wonderful to see people connect with what these books have to present," she says.
"We're all made of stardust," she says. "We're all born extraordinary."