Today I get to share a picture book that hits on a couple of my favorite topics: cats and learning to read.
Dianna Wilson Sirkovsky has always been a passionate reader and animal lover. As a result, her children grew up in a house full of books and cats! She rediscovered her love of picture books while reading to her children and it is the realization of a dream to now write for other children. Writing for children is both a pleasure and privilege that she hope to enjoy for as long as possible! She spent her childhood years on the Canadian prairies but has lived in Montreal for many years, raising her family and working at McGill University. You can follow her on Twitter.
Her debut picture book, JAMES’ READING RESUCE, hits me in all the feels. It’s a story of a young boy (James) who is struggling to learn reading. He also loves to stop by the local cat rescue and play with the homeless kitties. He comes up with the idea to help socialize a scared cat he has named Ghost (because he never sees him) by reading to him. What happens from there is a story that will melt your heart. Of course, it warms my teachers’ heart, as well as appeals to my cat loving side.
I think I shared here not too long ago that we recently adopted two new kitties right before school started in August. When we went to the local animal control to view the homeless animals, we were hoping to find a cat and a dog that would get along together (as I’m the cat person and he’s the dog person–though really we both love all animals). BUT my hubby connected with two kitties almost right away. We were told that they were siblings and needed to be adopted together as they were just too scared. In fact, they were almost NOT put up for adoption at all because they simply wouldn’t warm up to people and were too skittish. They were young and “unaltered” (not spayed or neutered yet) so the cost was also more, but in the end, those were the babies we took home. They spent a few weeks hiding under our bed, but as it turns out, my hubby is the cat whisperer. He was able to warm them up to us and now they have the run of the house (though they’re still skittish from time to time). Though I did help by reading a story to them every night too. Meet Zander (he of the long limbs) and Hazel (she of the cute ear tufts and white dot on her lip).
So when I saw the forward to Dianna’s book in the copyright material, I knew this book would hold a special place in my heart.
Me: What is it that draws you to writing picture books?
Dianna: I’ve always wanted to write but only in the last few years have I found the time to do so. I rediscovered my love of picture books while reading to my children many moons ago. I love and appreciate what illustrations bring to a story. I think what draws me to these books, other than simple delight, is the endless opportunity to create something wonderful – bringing to life the next story waiting to be told. And, in the process, hopefully creating a book that someone will love and remember forever.
Me: I love that you combined a story with teaching and cats! They are two of my loves. What inspired this story?
Dianna: Books and cats just seem to go together, don’t they? JRR is based on a true story I read on the internet several years ago. It touched a chord with me, as my son struggled with reading when he was young. Also, having raised my children with nine rescue cats, I felt a conviction that this was a story I had to write and that one day, no matter how long it took, it would be published and out in the world.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Dianna: The process! This was my first story so everything was a challenge. Who knew that ‘simple’ children’s books were so complicated to write?! I was completely untutored so it was a learning process all the way. The guidance of some generous writers and hours upon hours of research and reading helped me familiarize myself with the rules, structure and expectations of PBs.
Me: What does your writing process look like?
Dianna: I am not a disciplined writer and I don’t write every day. Lately, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t written anything for a couple of months now. I do, however, have a story idea that taps me on the shoulder from time to time with the gentle reminder “Still here!” The honest answer would be that I write as the muse strikes and time permits.
Me: James’ struggle with reading is one I recognize with many students this year. His solution is brilliant and original (I certainly haven’t seen this done in another story). Why is a struggling student who solves his learning problem by reading to shelter cats something you wanted to share with young readers?
Dianna: For me, the beauty of JRR is that it’s based on a true story. Reading struggles are forever timely and cause much anxiety for children and their parents. I’m so happy to be able to share this empowering and tender story. It’s a win-win tale, which is just so lovely. I’ve also been involved with animal rescue for many years, as have my family. Our grandmother passed along her passionate love of cats to both my sister and myself, and we have both rescued dozens of cats over the years. I’m happy to say that my children now carry the torch as well.
Me: The illustrations by Sara Casilda are wonderful. I especially loved the incredible page-turn reveal of Ghost! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Dianna: Beautiful ghost – isn’t he gorgeous?
I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderfully intuitive illustrator than Sara! Her work dances on the page and brings James and Ghost’s story to life. It was wonderful working with her.
One particular illustration that I didn’t expect and absolutely love is where the cats chase James’ untied shoelace. I had pictured in my mind that he dragged a shoelace held in his hand, but Sara’s translation of the text was simply delightful. And I’m so happy that she introduced her own beautiful (white) cat Luna into the story!
Me: I love that! Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Dianna: Don’t give up! Writing is like any other skill – the more you practice the better you become. Keep learning all the dos and don’ts and do not let them scare you into giving up. Write the story that you love; don’t write to trends. Find a critique group where you feel at home – they will become your greatest supporters. (And, if you’re looking for a furry family member, please remember to rescue AND that black cats and dogs are the least adopted.) Good luck!
Aww! Thank you for that advice Dianna and thank you for stopping by my blog.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to check out this book, I highly recommend it. This story has lots of heart with characters that are so memorable. Don’t miss it!