Kristina Abigail James was born in Seattle, Washington, on March 17, 1967, the youngest of five children. Her father, Gene, was a pediatrician, and her mother, Martha, was a homemaker.
Kristina showed an early talent for drawing and painting, and aside from the numerous occasions when she used her bedroom walls as her canvas, she was a well-behaved child.
As a teenager, Kristina accepted an internship at a local art gallery. She relished the opportunity to be around so much creative talent, and she learned to appreciate art as much as she already loved creating it. Her time at the gallery inspired her to consider potential career options that would incorporate her love of art as well as her natural patience and desire to help others. She quickly decided to pursue a career in arts education.
After high school, Kristina attended the University of Washington, where she studied secondary education. She went on to graduate school to earn a single-subject teaching credential that would allow her to teach art at the high school level.
Kristina accepted a teaching position in the nearby town of Aberdeen, Washington, and taught art classes at the high school there for eight years. In 1999, she met a man named Peter McCarthy on an online chat forum. The two maintained a long-distance relationship until 2000, when Kristina moved into Peter’s home in Oxford, Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, she secured a position teaching art at Yoknapatawpha High School and has been teaching there ever since.
Kristina and Peter were married in 2005. Though they tried for several years to have a baby, they were unable to conceive. This was devastating for the couple, especially Kristina who had always wanted to have children. However, Kristina came to accept that it wasn’t meant to be and instead pours all of her mothering energy into her students, whom she refers to as "her kids."
According to the principal of Yoknapatawpha High School, Kristina has always gone above and beyond for her students, often putting her own time and money into helping them discover new things and pursue their interests after high school.
She is a fierce advocate for her students, and over the years, she has clashed many times with more conventional administrators, faculty, and parents who wanted to restrict what the teens could see, study, and create. Her battles were not limited to defending her own course curricula. Kristina has long been an outspoken opponent of any attempt to deny students access to any field of study or extracurricular activity on the grounds that the subject is "unwholesome" or "inappropriate."
Her insistence that high schoolers are more than capable—sometimes more capable than their parents—of learning about and tolerating different viewpoints without adopting those beliefs for themselves has rankled many people over the years. But Kristina’s sunny outlook and undeniable devotion to the well-being of "her kids" have made her popular with the students and saved her job on more than one occasion.