Editor’s Note: This story is a part of a Chronicle series titled “Where are they now?” The series takes a look at the stories of alumni from our area high schools. The Chronicle is looking for former or current residents who have achieved impressive accomplishments with a unique story to tell since graduation. Area alumni from all decades welcome.
SPRINGFIELD — A year ago, Springfield native Rebecca (Kash) Atanassova would have never guessed she would have her own books distributed in big-name bookstores and sold worldwide.
“We went from zero to Barnes & Noble and global distribution in under a year,” Atanassova said in a recent phone interview.
Alongside her sister Rachel MacKnight, they started their own publishing company a year ago and have since published 27 of Atanassova’s children’s books, including her most recent, “Your Heart Can Hold the Whole Universe,” in late September.
A 1992 graduate of Thurston High School, Atanassova recalls she’s always had an affinity for child-directed speech. When she was a teen, she took child development classes and volunteered in the high school’s preschool. In her senior year, Atanassova volunteered at Ridgeview Elementary School every day and assisted with each grade level.
Although Atanassova recalls that she kept most of her writing to herself, her AP English teacher, Mr. Kevin Rowan, nominated Atanassova for a senior creative writing award.
“Rebecca thought he had made a mistake,” MacKnight said. “He laughed and assured her he hadn’t.”
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Atanassova’s writing career began in her early childhood. She remembers a stage play adaptation she wrote around 6 years old of “Three Little Pigs,” a production that included parts for all the kids in the neighborhood that surrounds the Deerhorn Road area.
“Somewhere I have a stage play adaptation I wrote when I was six or seven of the three little pigs. And I wrote parts for all the neighborhood kids,” Atanassova said.
In her early 20s, Atanassova’s father encouraged her to start writing and publishing children’s picture books. He gifted Atanassova a rhyming dictionary and a copy of the Writer’s market for Children’s Books as encouragement.
Last year, MacKnight came across an Instagram video about Amazon book publishing and became inspired to publish Atanassova’s books. She told Atanassova about the ad and asked her to check the house for all the manuscripts.
“She got back to me the next day and found them tucked away in an upper shelf of a closet — 75 manuscripts,” MacKnight said. “She’s since written 50 or 60 more.”
They created Popsicle Publishing shortly after. MacKnight chose the name because she wants kids to love reading their books as much as they love popsicles. Despite initially working with limited resources, today, they have a full team of illustrators, marketing employees, and legal support, and 27 of Atanassova’s published books under their belt.
“I would not have believed that a year ago. I would have thought maybe we’d have one book out. And just hopefully someone would see it and that is enough for my heart to have my name on the cover of a book,” said Atanassova. “That’s all I ever wanted my whole life and it’s become so much more.”
In September, Atanassova released her most recent children’s book, “Your Heart Can Hold the Whole Universe,” a wholesome story about good deeds and the exhibition of kindness.
Atanassova got the inspiration for this book from a friend she made on a school-sponsored international exchange trip. They told her that her heart grew big from her kindness.
Atanassova asked herself, “What would that look like if somebody had embodied all of these characteristics that could make their heart so big?”
The book is intended to be a reference guide for how children can be kind.
“I thought of my kids, people I like, friends, and people I admire,” Atanassova said. “What are some of the things they’ve done or what are some of the qualities that I see in them that I could put into a character where it could be a manual or reference guide for kids?”
Soon, Atanassova hopes to have the book available in libraries around the Springfield area. She also hopes to do a library book tour and attend book festivals to read to children and talk about her books. The past year centered primarily on production and the two sisters hope next year is focused on making the books more easily accessible to people.
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These days, Atanassova and her family enjoy life in Nebraska exploring the outdoors. She is a wildlife rescue volunteer and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Atanassova says that her family travels quite a bit. They are often traveling to accompany her husband to conferences where he presents his economic research. They enjoy visiting family in Bulgaria where her family volunteers for orphanages. Additionally, they travel to work with co-authors for Atanassova’s books.
In her free time, Atanassova often gardens and joins art classes. Alongside her son, Mariano, Atanassova is in a class on collage-style illustration techniques to replicate an illustration from her book, “Home is Best.”
Atanassova still tries to visit Springfield at least once a year to visit her mother and school friends who still live in the area.
“This summer was really fun. I got to connect with some school friends and we got to pick apples and have a lovely visit with people I’ve known since I was 12 and 13 years old,” Atanassova said. “I’m very tied to the community.”