Today’s Simply 7 is another book that helps children with empathy in a very clever and humorous way.
Heather Smith spent much of her early life wrestling with words. Not only was she a reluctant reader, she struggled with speech as well. Unable to pronounce certain words she became a walking thesaurus, anxiously swapping out words she wanted to say with words she could say. Although Heather’s relationship with words was rocky, the two were eventually able to get over their difficulties and have been on speaking terms ever since. Today, Heather wrestles with words in a different way – she’s a writer! Instead of dodging them, she grabs them tight with both hands and finds them a home on the page. Originally from Newfoundland, Heather now lives in Waterloo, Ontario, with her husband and three children. Her east coast roots inspire much of her writing. You can learn more about her at her website.
ANNIE’S CAT IS SAD is a story about a little girl named Annie and her cat. She comes home after school to find her cat is … well, sad. She tries several things to cheer her up, but ultimately this book isn’t about how to cheer up your sad friend. It’s about accepting those harder emotions we’re not always comfortable with. This is a perfect book for the classroom and opening up discussions about tough feelings with young readers.
Me: You have written in quite a variety of genres. What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?
Heather: As a child, I loved going to the library and looking through the picture books. When it was “time” to move to chapter books, I wasn’t ready. As a result, I stopped reading altogether. I wish I knew then what I know now – picture books are for all ages!
When I was an adult and had children of my own, I found myself back in the picture book world. Reading new and exciting kids’ books inspired me to write my own. Over the next decade or so I pursued a career in children’s writing. Although my first love was picture books, it was my young adult novels that got published first – contrary to popular belief, writing picture books is hard! It took a while, but after honing my craft, I have several picture books out in the world with Annie’s Cat is Sad being my fourth.
Me: Your story of a girl who recognizes that her cat is sad is both sweet and very timely. It is so hard to teach children that being sad is okay, or how to help a friend who is sad. What gave you the idea to write this book?
Heather: Having a bad day is universal. Everyone’s been there. When we see that a friend has had a bad day, we are quick to try to “fix” things, but sometimes the best thing to do is support them as they sit with their feelings.
Sadness is an unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling, one we often try to push away. I think it’s important that children feel their feelings, instead of burying them – only then can they begin to work through them. Knowing that it’s okay to be sad can be quite empowering. Allowing a child to sit in their discomfort gives them the opportunity to navigate their way out of it and teaches them the valuable lesson that sadness is often temporary. In these pandemic times, this message is more important than ever.
Me: That is so true. What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Heather: I originally went into this book thinking solely about a child’s experience with bad days, but as the story evolved, I realized that the feelings explored in this book apply to people of all ages – and cats of all ages too!
Me: You have quite a few books that have been published just the last few years. What does your writing process look like? What habits have you created for yourself to be so successful already?
Heather: I am a full-time writer and write daily. For me, it’s important to open my laptop first thing in the morning and dive into any works-in-progress. Jumping right in gets me in the zone and sets me up for a full day of writing.
Breaking up my writing day with a walk is also essential. I find that being outside in the fresh air clears my head and allows me to have breakthroughs with my works-in-progress. I’ve had many a-ha moments while out walking!
Me: The illustrations by Karen Obuhanych are absolutely perfect for your story. I loved the textures and expressions of the characters! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Heather: I agree! Karen captured the emotion of this story beautifully. My biggest surprise? Annie’s hair! I absolutely love it!
Me: Right? I love that hair! Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Heather: My advice would be to avoid making the child characters in your story too simplistic or too sophisticated. Try instead to capture the balance between the two. Children often see the world in simple but poignant ways and the key to creating an authentic child character is capturing this wondrous child-like sweet spot.
On the technical side of things, I recommend reading your manuscript to an imaginary classroom of kids. As you read aloud you will definitely find areas that need livening up, or chunks of text that sounds clunky and need cutting.
Me: Good advice. Do you have any future projects we can look forward to that you can tell us about?
Heather: Yes! Given my love of picture books, I’m thrilled to have two more forthcoming:
Granny Left Me a Rocketship, illustrated by Ashley Barron, is a story about how the things our loved ones leave behind are more than just physical objects, they are time capsules filled with memories.
Waking Ben Doldrums, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler, is a story of community, compassion, and hope. It’s a reminder that while we can’t always fix another person’s problems, a simple act of kindness can go a long way.
I loved writing these books and can’t wait to see them in the hands of readers of all ages!
I can’t wait to read them Heather. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog.
Dear readers, today is this book’s birthday! Yay! I highly recommend tracking it down to read. The expressions on the cat are hilarious, but the subject matter is one that young readers will grasp right away. This book tackles a difficult subject with both heart and humor in a way that you will not want to miss.