We had the good fortune of connecting with Kitty Felde and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kitty, how does your business help the community?
It breaks my heart to read about the latest partisan battles on Capitol Hill. The divisiveness goes beyond politics. It tears at the very fabric of who we are as a democratic society. And if I feel that way as a grownup, what must kids think about Washington? How can we expect that JFK mantra “ask what you can do for your country” to be taken seriously by the next generation?
That’s why I write The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts. Our ten-year-old protagonist has a birds eye view of the sausagemaking inside the U.S. Capitol. Her father is a congressman. To her, the partisanship battles resemble fourth grade battles on the playground. How can adults behave like this?
If we want to inspire the next generation of public servants, we’d better start now. And start young.
Fina inspires us to do better. To talk to each other, even if we disagree. She humanizes the mechanics of government and democracy. And she makes it fun and exciting.
My hope is that Fina can transform Washington.
Book 2 in the Fina Mendoza Mysteries series was just published August 13! It’s called “State of the Union“ and the plot involves a mysterious bird that poops on the president’s head during the State of the Union address.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I was a public radio journalist for three decades. When I left reporting, I asked myself what gave me the most satisfaction? Covering high profile trials? War crimes trials? Hosting a talk show? Covering Capitol Hill? Nope. It was a monthly half hour segment I did at KPCC where we threw the adults out of the studio and I got to talk to middle school kids about a book. Kids are so open and honest and smart and insightful. Technology allowed me to take that segment and make a podcast out of it: the Book Club for Kids podcast.
We started in 2015. The challenges were many: new technologies to learn, relationships to forge with teachers and librarians, grants to write. Little by little, I found my “people” – fellow kidcasters, school librarians, elementary and middle school teachers. I was invited to speak at the American Library Association convention. Grants trickled in and we hired a producer. Interns wanted to work with us. The press started to take notice: articles in School Library Journal, Common Sense Media, The New York Times.
The pandemic nearly did us in. As a radio person, I couldn’t stand Zoom audio. We researched other ways to record remotely. They weren’t perfect and required a LOT more work for poor, overworked teachers, but we carried on. Funding dried up completely as the nation reset its priorities. But I was determined to continue our work.
Today, we’ve produced more than 150 episodes of the show, with about 30K downloads a month. Grants are once again starting to trickle in.
And the podcast inspired me to take the step of writing my own series of children’s books and podcasts called The Fina Mendoza Mysteries. Now I could not only tackle the challenge of keeping kids reading, I could also play a role in civics education.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We’d start at the beach. When I lived in DC, it’s the thing I missed the most. We’d go down to Playa del Rey to walk and swim. A quick shower and breakfast at The Coffee Company in Westchester. I was there when it opened in July of 1976. And it’s still my go-to place for breakfast or lunch. If the weather was fine, after a nap, we’d head out to Stoneview Park in Culver City for some of the best views of LA. It’s brand new and connects to the Baldwin Hills to the Sea trail. (We could have walked there from Playa, but the Ballona Creek trail is rather boring unless you’re on a bike.)
Another day, I’d take my guest downtown via the Expo Line and Dash bus to the fabric district. Not that I need more fabric, but…I’d introduce them to some of my favorite tailoring people – including the 90-something year old Lucia at Ross’ Cutlery. What a storyteller! We’d stop in at the Broad and I’d show off Disney Hall. And we’d HAVE to go to the downtown library. Lunch would be at Phillippe’s of course. Double dip beef with mustard, cole slaw, and Fritos. I’d show off the newly remodeled Union Station after lunch and wander around Olvera Street, stopping for those famous taquitos at the corner cafe. Then it would be up to the top of the Bonaventure and the rotating bar for a drink. Followed of course by a Dodger game.
If they have any interest in dance, I’d take them to Charlie Hodge’s ballet class at Westside School of Ballet. He’s a former Twyla Tharp company member and really inspires you to be your best. After a 7:45 Saturday morning class, we’d head over to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market (I’m hoping the slower one on Cloverfield will be back soon!) and coffee with the girls from ballet class at Lunetta or breakfast at Thyme Cafe on Ocean Park. We’d do a bit of shopping, then walk along the Pallisades and maybe even ride the roller coaster on the pier. We’d head up California Street to St. Monica’s Catholic Church for a Saturday evening mass. And then up to the top of the Huntley Hotel for a drink and watch the sunset.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Fina Mendoza was inspired by Fina Martinez, a young woman I had the priviledge of mentoring many years ago. She didn’t really need my help or guidance. She was determined to be the first in her family to go to college. She got her non-English-speaking mother to navigate the system of LAUSD to get her transfered to a better high school. She got her BA, MA, and is now working on her PhD. She also inspires a classroom full of second graders to do their best every day. She inspires me daily, too. She even let me borrow her first name for my main character.
Frank Schaefer took the one of me at a book signing Liz Nuzzolese took the one of me with the Catholic school kids Tad Daley took the one of me recording the black and white one was taken by Ilsa Setziol the Book Club for Kids podcast taping one was taken by Angela Falkenberg