By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
Kimberly Willis Holt had already written several childrens books when she created the character of nine year-old Piper Reed, the daughter of a Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, in Piper Reed, Navy Brat. Like the author, Piper traveled the world with her Navy family. Piper continued her adventures in ve more books—but only a handful of the 18 novels and picture books Holt has written. (She’s currently working on her 19th title.)
“I’ve never forgotten my military roots,” Kimberly said. The Navy made it possible for my parents to send me to college. Had my parents stayed in Forest Hill, Louisiana — the little town where they met — I wouldn’t have had that opportunity. I owe a lot to the military because of that.”
Kimberly’s parents, Ray and Brenda, were married in 1958 and transferred to Ray’s first duty station at Naval Training Center Great Lakes. In 1959, they transferred from Illinois to Pensacola, Florida, where Kimberly was born. Because of the Navy, Kimberly went to kindergarten in Paris, France, and learned to read in French before English. After Paris, they moved to Norfolk, Virginia; Alexandria, Louisiana; Barrigada, Guam; Bremerton, Washington; Forest Hill, Louisiana; and finally New Orleans, Louisiana, before Kimberly’s father, Senior Chief Ray Willis, retired. “I consider Louisiana my emotional home,” she said.
Kimberly went to college at the University of New Orleans, then transferred to Louisiana State University. “My parents always made it clear I was going to college,” she recalled. But Kimberly didn’t realize how much of a challenge financing college for three children would be.
Thankfully, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society provided Holt with a loan to help pay for tuition. “I was always aware
that the Society helped me go to school,” she said. As she neared graduation, Holt was offered a full-time job in radio news. She attended school part-time while she worked, but never graduated. “Attending college is part of the reason I’ve done so well,” Kimberly said, “and it wouldn’t have been possible without that loan from the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.”
Kimberly always wanted to be a writer, but didn’t plan to write books for kids or write about military families. “I just started out writing,” she said. “My first book—My Louisiana Sky—was about a 12-year-old girl. I felt like the genre chose me.” Both My Louisiana Sky and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (for which Kimberly won the National Book Award) have been made into movies.
Kimberly has a special place in her heart and her work for military families. On book tours she visits schools on military bases or where there are students from military families.
She also offers the Ray and Brenda Willis Scholarship (named in honor of her parents) to schools with large military family populations who invite her to speak to students.
Kimberly will always be grateful to the Navy and to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. “I’m where I am now because they helped me on the road,” she said.
Learn more about Kimberly Willis Holt and her books at www.kimberlywillisholt.com.