Guest Edition

Katie Mazeika–What Was on Her . . .

Welcome everyone and an especially warm welcome to Katie Mazeika, the writer and illustrator of one of my favorite biographies released this year. 

Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid glows with positivity and inventiveness. It tells of the many successes of Annette Kellerman, who beat a debilitating disease by building up her leg muscles by swimming. She broke swimming records and became a celebrity athlete. She revolutionized swimwear for women. She became a movie star. And as Katie writes in her Author’s Note, it all started with her transformative experience of overcoming her disability through swimming. It was her disability that made her the woman she became. At its heart Annette Feels Free is about expanding boundaries, big and small. I loved every word and illustration, and I bet you will too.

Discover the incredible true story of “The Original Mermaid,” Annette Kellerman, a girl who wanted to dance, swim, and feel free—and who grew into a woman who fought for the right to do just that!

Annette loved to dance and twirl and pirouette. But when she got sick and had to start wearing braces on her legs, Annette stopped dancing. Until, one day, her dad took her swimming. Annette could finally dance again—in the water! She water danced her way to England, where she performed water ballets, attempted daring dives, and competed in swim races. When she competed against men (and won!), she realized it wasn’t fair that women had to swim in full skirts, so she made her own swimsuit, and fought for the right to wear it.

Experience the journey of an independent and determined young woman, who swam, danced, dove, and designed so she could live her life feeling free.

Katie Mazeika has a long line of illustration credits to her name. Annette Feels Free, however, is Katie’s first jointly authored and illustrated book. This, despite being a naturally talented writer. When she was in high school, she faced a fork in the road: To write or to illustrate. At that time, the illustrator C.F. Payne came to her school to speak about his career. It was this visit that launched her in the direction of illustration. And so that’s what she did. Katie graduated with a BFA in illustration from Columbus College of Art and Design and then illustrated, illustrated, and illustrated. She completed 12 books in total! But then, Katie discovered Annette Kellerman and everything changed.

With that hook to grab your attention, let me turn things over to Katie so we can find out what happened. She joins us from Ohio, where she lives with her husband Chris, children Lillian and Jack, and dogs Phaedra and Daphne. Katie is here to tell us What Was on her…

Desktop: I love to collect references for my non-fiction books! It was so great to hunt down photos. costumes and movie posters for Annette. It was a never-ending assortment of newspaper clippings, documents and old photographs (even one from when she was a little girl!). One of my favorite sources was the New South Wales Museum of Applied Arts and Science that has an extensive collection of Annette’s costumes with the dates they were worn. I kept all my findings on my desktop like a big Annette scrapbook.


One of Annette Kellerman’s performance costumes, which Katie used as inspiration for this gorgeous scene of Annette with her Kellermanettes.

First sketches and color palette: Below are two sets of my sketches, the first round of color, and my final artwork. I started much more muted and subdued–it was boring. I think the rich blues and purples fit Annette’s flamboyant personality much better. The final art for Annette was also flatter and more stylized–that was me figuring out as an illustrator what worked and what didn’t.

New ideas that spring-boarded from her work on Annette Feels Free: While I really connected to Annette’s story as I too have a disability from childhood, I just loved making Annette shine as a strong woman. She had such an attitude and spunk that was fun to illustrate. I want to illustrate more women who changed the world, made a difference and were themselves the whole way through.

Agenda: I’ve visited with several eighth-grade classes in the last few months and talked about the idea that a book can be a mirror, window or sliding glass door (based on the quote from Dr Rudine Sims Bishop) and why each type of book is important. I also spend some time talking about my writing process and how I go about researching (primary and secondary sources) and what a “finished manuscript” looks like after edits (as an example to students that so much od writing is rewriting.)

I also share how many edits my art goes through, from early thumbnails to sketches to final artwork. There is so much research on the illustration side! I was fortunate that I found so many photos and other visuals for Annette. But there is also countless hours spent googling images of hair, fashion and furniture to fit a time period as well as answering questions like “did women paint their nails in 1910?”


A photograph of Annette Kellerman as a young girl and Katie’s beautiful interpretation of it.

Mind: I’m just finishing up a second picture book biography for Beach Lane Books (this one is about Beulah Henry–the inventor known as “Lady Edison”). I feel like I am just coming up for air and there are so many wonderful books released since last spring –I need to catch up on my reading! I love the breadth of ideas and new ways authors and illustrators reach young readers. I’m so inspired by all the creativity. It drives me to want to push my own limits.

Thanks so much, Katie! And, yes, about being inspired by the creativity of others. I’m right there with you. I’m delighted and galvanized by each release of new books. 

You can keep up to date with Katie Mazeika by visiting her website at or following her on Twitter at @kdmaz, Instagram at @kdmazart, and Facebook at @kdmazillustration.

To order Annette Feels Free, click on the book below. 


If you would like to learn more about me, take a look at my website at

4 thoughts on “Katie Mazeika–What Was on Her . . .

  1. What a wonderful interview. I can’t wait to read Annette Feels Free–as a disabled young adult, I can say we definitely need more disabled representation in children’s books. Growing up different is tough but books like these show how we can take our circumstances into our own hands and forge our own paths forward!

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