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Alumna Inspires with Meaningful Children’s Book
Kari van Wakeren shares her experience as a UMD alumna and children’s book author.
Kari van Wakeren graduated from UMD in 2004 with a major in Teaching Social Studies and a minor in Coaching. Today, Kari is a pastor at a church in Alexandria Minnesota and now is also the author of a new children’s book, Bubble Wrap Girl.
“I”ve always loved literature, and I’ve wanted to write a book for a very long time,” she recalls. Once the spark appeared for Bubble Wrap Girl, it did not take too long to write. It did, though, take her some time to believe in the story enough, with a little push from her husband, to take the steps to publish her work. van Wakeren eventually self-published the book. “It was a big task and investment, but publishing my book brought the message to life,” she says.
For van Wakeren, writing and publishing Bubble Wrap Girl had a deeper meaning. She is extremely passionate about the story because the message is something that she believes in wholeheartedly. “Life has plenty of setbacks and that there are people who put others down. I want kids everywhere to hear the truth that they have – inside of them – the ability to do difficult and great things,” van Wakeren says. The message of the book is simple but can be applied to everyday resiliency.
van Wakeren says storytelling is a huge part of her work as a pastor because stories are what bring people together. “Storytelling is one of the best ways to learn about who we are and about the world we live in. When we are a part of someone else’s story, we then feel more kindness, empathy, and compassion towards that person,” she explains.
“Those are traits that our world could use a lot more of. As human beings, we spend so much time comparing ourselves to other people, including adults who can be terribly nasty to each other when there is a feeling of fear or insecurity there.” This is something that saddens van Wakeren because she believes we are all in this together, we all need each other, and we can always learn things from one another.
van Wakeren came back to UMD and read her book at the Chester Park Preschool. “It was wonderful to join in with the preschoolers for circle time and hear them greet each other in Chinese,” van Wakeren said.
After she finished her story, the teacher encouraged the students to connect with the message. Each student made bubble wrap creations and shared the “story” behind their work with the class.
van Wakeren loved every minute of being back on campus. It brought back all the great times she had as a student and of the relationships built. “It was fun to see all of the improvements that have happened since I was in school, like the dining center. As well as the developments that are in progress, such as the up and coming chemistry building being built.”
Another thing that made it great for her was being able to experience it with her daughter, Esme. “I enjoyed seeing the school through my daughter's eyes, and I can imagine her as a student there – in the very far future.”
Being back at UMD brought forth many memories. She said it was hard for her to pick her favorite, but top on her list was playing on the tennis team, playing flute with the Lutheran Campus Ministry, working at Lester Park Floral, and going to hockey games with her roommate, Jeanne.
“The thing I loved most about UMD, though, was when I could step out my door and be in nature. I enjoyed hiking at Chester Park, Lester River, Jay Cooke State Park, and all the great spots along the North Shore,” van Wakeren says. It is what keeps bringing her back to Duluth, and whenever she has the time to visit, she wonders when she can come back again.
As for being an alumna of UMD, van Wakeren encourages people not to hesitate to reach out to Mollie Nelson of the UMD Alumni Staff. “Start a conversation about something you are interested in or passionate about. I could never have imagined the possibilities and experiences that have come from that first conversation with Mollie,” she says.
“I feel truly grateful for the time back on campus and enjoyed spending giving back, even in a small way. I’m thankful for the opportunity to share something so close to my heart.”
To order your copy of Bubble Wrap Girl, click here.