Behind the Scenes: “Kiki & Jax”

After the success of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy,” Marie embarked on a new writing project – a children’s book that would share the joy of tidying with young readers. “Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship” is the story of two best friends who learn to cherish what’s truly important – their friendship – through tidying.

To bring the book to life, Marie collaborated with award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Salina Yoon. Salina has written and illustrated nearly 200 books for young readers, including the popular “Penguin” series. “When we moved to the U.S., my daughters discovered a lot of American books,” Marie recalls. “They especially loved ‘Penguin and Pinecone,’ by Salina. Her books were our favorite to read together.”

After observing the impact that books like Salina’s had on her daughters – avid readers who devour up to 10 books a night – Marie was inspired to create her own. “Children learn so much from books – from the words they say to the experiences they seek out. ‘Kiki & Jax’ teaches children to cherish what they have.”

Tidying and Friendship

Kiki and Jax – a squirrel and an owl – couldn’t be more different. Kiki, a hoarder, loves stuff and Jax, a sorter, loves order. But eventually Kiki’s things get in the way of their time together – one day, Kiki can’t even find a path to her front door because of all the clutter! With Jax’s help, Kiki learns how to tidy; in the process, the two friends learn to really value their friendship.

“When Jax shows Kiki how to tidy, he’s really teaching her about simplifying and making room for joy,” says Salina. “I drew on Marie when creating Jax – they both have a passion for order and tidiness. But, like Marie, Jax’s greatest motivation is to bring calm and happiness to Kiki’s life.”

Creating Kiki and Jax

Salina initially conceived of the book’s characters as two girls – Charlotte and Marie – but as the story evolved she realized animals would reach a wider audience. “Sometimes young readers only relate to characters who look like them,” says Salina. “With animals, it’s easier for kids to connect with their personalities alone.” Once Kiki and Jax became a squirrel and an owl, Salina drew them au naturel – without any clothes – but realized they had to be wearing something so they could learn how to fold!

“Each time Salina shared a new draft, I got excited,” says Marie. “She’s so committed to her work – every detail was thoughtfully considered. I knew we were creating a book with joy and love.”

Joy-Sparking Touches

For readers in the know, Salina often hides objects with special meaning in her illustrations. In “Kiki & Jax,” she included spark-joy items that belong to Marie’s daughters; detectives can find a ukulele, a donkey, polka dot sunglasses and a rainbow bag, among other treasures.

“Seeing my daughters’ toys in the book was a thrill,” says Marie. “When I showed the illustrations to them, they were giddy!”

For Salina, a joy-sparking moment came when she first met Marie in person. “In the world of book publishing, it’s very unusual for the author and illustrator to meet,” she says. “I’ve always felt a deep connection to Marie. We were completely aligned on the message we wanted to share with families; it’s a rare thing when a book writes itself, and ‘Kiki & Jax’ was that kind of story.”

Shop “Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship” here.

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