Author Spotlight: Kelly Swemba with Missing Violet

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Glitter Reviews!

We are happy to have Kelly Swemba today featured on Author Spotlight. She is a registered nurse and children’s book author who writes about big feelings. I connected with her through Michele Ziemke’s Mighty KidLit. Beaming Books published her heart-touching picture book Missing Violet on January 31st, 2023.

The book’s blurb:

Life is full of sunshine for inseparable friends Violet and Mia. Until one day, Violet leaves school sick and doesn’t get better. Without her best friend, Mia slips into a gloomy existence. As she moves through the stages of grief like the colors of a rainbow, Mia wonders if she will ever feel like herself again. When Mia reaches out to her classmates, she remembers what she loved most about Violet.

At the end of February, my family went through a lot. My father-in-law passed away, and my mother ended up in the emergency room with a life-threatening disease. Since grief has made camp at my home, I have treasured Missing Violet. So, I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss it with its lovely author, Kelly Swemba.

Missing Violet is a picture book about death, grief, and healing. What inspired you to write it? 

When I was in nursing school, we did a rotation on a critically ill children’s unit. The children spent a lot of time there, and some didn’t get to go home for long stretches at a time. I thought about how hard that would be for them and their families. I wasn’t writing or even thinking about writing then. However, seeing them without their families tugged at my heart and stuck with me.

Then in 2020, the pandemic hit. Everyone felt and experienced loss, from the elderly to young children. I imagined children wanting to see their friends again but never getting the chance to. My heart hurt as I thought of their grief, and I knew I wanted to help.

Children’s books about death and grief are sparse. Can you share with us your path to publication with Missing Violet? Do publishing houses shy away from children’s books about tough and sensitive subjects? 

I had pitched Missing Violet during PBPitch and received a like from a publishing house. I sent my full MS, and they said they wanted to take it to acquisitions, which was amazing! While I waited, a friend reached out to me and told me about Children’s Book Insider. They were featuring Beaming Books, and my friend thought my SEL stories would be a good match. Because of her encouragement and kindness, I joined CBI and sent MISSING VIOLET to Beaming Books, who contacted me with their offer! I was so excited!

I reached out to agents I had queried with my publication offer, but they passed. This was a journey that I was going to do without an agent. I reviewed both contracts, reached out to friends for advice, and chose to work with Beaming Books. They’ve been absolutely wonderful, and I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to work with them.

I can’t speak for what publishing houses are looking for, but I do know that there are some amazing stories out in the world that deal with tough topics. This shows there is a need. I can encourage people to write what is important to them, whether humor, STEM, NF, SEL or lyrical stories. I think there’s luck that’s involved with any agent offer or publication deal, and I can only hope stories find their way to the place and person that will best fit the story’s heart.

Mia goes through the grieving process after her best friend Violet dies. The back matter includes a note about discussing death with children and activities to help them while grieving. Can you tell us about your research for Missing Violet? 

Of course! I’m a nurse by trade and have my master’s in psychiatric nursing. I’ve always been an advocate for mental health and holistic nursing, which centers around treating the whole person, not just their illness. The core of the information came from my education in nursing. I also took previous courses that focused on death, dying, and how to provide care to those individuals. But since this story featured a child, I researched how grief affects children and methods to help them in ways they could understand.

Fabiana Faiallo’s illustrations are beautiful and diverse, but what caught my eye the most was how she played with colors to reflect the main character’s emotions through her grieving process. Which is your favorite spread? Why?

Fabiana did an AMAZING job! I absolutely love how she brought the story to life and showed so much emotion in her art. It’s honestly hard to choose because I love them all! But since you asked, the one spread that stands out to me is the last full spread with the bubbles. The pastels in the sky, Mia’s expression, and the act of blowing bubbles to Violet is beyond touching… it’s my favorite. A second favorite is the last page, where Mia sees rainbows and remembers her friend.

What do you hope children will take away from Missing Violet?

My hope with MISSING VIOLET is that children will feel comforted by the story; that they will see a child that has lost someone and experiences a rainbow of feelings. I want them to know this ok, and that all feelings should have their space to breathe and exist. I also want children to see Mia getting comforted by her family, talking to a counselor, and finding that her friends miss Violet too. It shows children that there are people in their world they can reach out to when their feelings don’t make sense, and that there is strength in asking for help when they are hurting.

Can you share with us your writing routine?

So, to be honest…I don’t have one! (I know! I know!) But I find that I only write when I feel passionate about an idea. Then I’m fully focused on developing the story. Sometimes stories come all at once, and the first draft flows out in one sitting. Other times I have a little idea or concept. In these instances, I don’t write right away. Instead, I wait and think about it. I contemplate the characters, what the heart of the story is, and how the external journey can be used to bring out the internal one. And when I’ve figured it out, then I sit and write.

Please tell us your best writing tip.

My best writing tip is to read! Read picture books, YA, MG, nonfiction, adult, poetry, novels in verse, GN. I find I pick up tips from reading other people’s stories. I also really recommend finding great critique partners. I lean on my mine and trust them 100%. And each of my CPs is different and brings their own perspective, which is really helpful. Not everyone sees a story the same way. But if multiple people pick out the same thing, I know it’s an area that needs work.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to say that I signed a contract for my second picture book! I can’t give any details yet, but I will as soon as I can share. My dream is to continue to write stories that find their way into the hands of readers. Whether that’s PBs, MGs, or even early chapters. I love writing and sharing stories with others.

What is your favorite emotion?

I know compassion isn’t an emotion, but I love all the feels that come with it.

Besides being a writer, you are a nurse. What is the funniest thing a patient has done in your presence? 

I mean, the stories I could tell! Let’s say it probably wasn’t funny when it happened, but now I look back on those moments and laugh. I’ll spare everyone the details.

Which virtue should people cultivate more?


Which are your all-time favorite books? 

I read all genres! But I’ll focus on PBs or else the list will be endless!

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away
Shark Lady
Strictly No Elephants
The Little Blue Cottage
Ocean Meets Sky
Planting Stories

And new releases:

Big Truck Playdate
Dear Star Baby
Finding Papa

What is your mantra? 

This is a great question. My first instinct is to say, “keep going.” To give things a try, but you just never know what could come from it. With that comes courage and self-belief. But recently, I bought a wall hanging that sums up how I feel. It reads: “What if I fall? Oh my darling, what if you fly?”

Kelly Swemba. Source.

About Kelly Swemba:

Kelly Swemba is a children’s book author and a registered nurse. She writes about children’s big emotions and hopes her stories foster children’s imagination and love for learning. Missing Violet is her debut picture book.

You can find Kelly at:

Website: Kelly Swemba
Twitter: @KSwemba
Instagram: @kellyswemba
Goodreads: Kelly Swemba

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you.


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