JACKSON TWP. Jackson High School graduate (2015) and Ohio University journalism student Kaitlin Kulich is launching her first children’s book this month titled "Pawpaw is My Favorite Flavor!" and is hoping to return to Stark County to share her book at local schools.
The book is about a young child named Henry who visits his grandfather on his farm in Athens, Ohio. When Henry arrives, he takes a walk on the farm with his grandpa. The two of them pick some fruit called pawpaw.
Kulich said the pawpaw fruit is unique in Ohio and can be found mainly in the Athens area, which holds a pawpaw festival every year. She said she loves the fruit and that it tastes like a combination of banana and mango.
"I’ve always been interested in different kinds of food and the pawpaw fruit caught my attention and I wanted to share it with others through the book," Kulich said.
Born with a disorder called Phenylketonuria (fen-ul-key-toe-NU-ree-uh), also called PKU, Kulich has had dietary restrictions most of her childhood. According to mayoclinic.org, it is a rare inherited disorder that causes an amino acid called phenylalanine to build up in the body. PKU is caused by a defect in the gene that helps create the enzyme needed to break down phenylalanine.
"There were new medicines developed for the disorder when I was about 12 and because of the meds, I’m able to eat just about anything now," Kulich said. "When I decided to write the book, I combined my interest of food, my love for kids and my education as a journalism student into one story. My mother was a teacher at Lake Cable Elementary and always encouraged me and my brothers to read a lot. I also think it’s important to learn about healthy foods and preserving foods like the pawpaw."
She said the book has a number of messages including using African-American characters in the book because she feels African-Americans "aren’t represented in southern Ohio as much as they should be." Other messages include trying healthy foods and the importance of family.
"One of my grandpas passed away in April and the other one is in a nursing home," Kulich said. "I dedicated the book to both of them because I think family is important. I told my grandpa that I was dedicating the book to him before he passed. He was a lunch monitor at Sauder Elementary and out of all of his different jobs, that one was his favorite."
The illustrator for the book is Laura Dobrota. Kulich said she found Dobrota working at Ohio University and contacted her about illustrating it. She believes the illustrations accurately convey her vision of her two characters.
"I told Laura how I wanted Henry to look with his smile and his glasses and she did a great job bringing him to life," Kulich said.
Kulich started at Jackson Local Schools in first grade. Her mother, Lynne Kulich, taught first, second and third grades at Lake Cable Elementary. While she is currently living in Athens and plans to remain in that area after graduating in December, she does want to return to Jackson Local Schools and other area schools to read her book to kids.
She said she was part of the Jackson School for the Arts program while at Jackson High School. While she never wrote for the school newspaper, she did write one act plays that were put into production.
Her career path may lead her to writing more children’s books. For now, she is hoping to become a graphic designer for websites for kids or possibly work in television programming for kids.
"There often is a learning disorder that comes with the PKU," Kulich said. "I have always struggled with reading, writing, spelling and grammar. I always push myself to overcome my struggles. I want to stay in the publishing field either writing more books or working in some form of children’s programming."
Kulich’s book is available online at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. She is holding an official launch at the pawpaw festival in Athens on Sept. 13. She said the prime picking season for the fruit is about two weeks in September. She encourages everyone to come to Athens to see the book and try the fruit.
"If you haven’t tried a pawpaw, come on down to Athens and try one," she said. "The only area in Ohio to get it is in the Appalachian areas. It tastes great."