I love cats and I love mermaids. When I heard there was a picture book that combined both? Well, I had to share it!
Judith L. Roth is the author of several picture books and a middle-grade novel in verse. Her most recent books include Venetian Lullaby and Hiding Baby Moses (Junior Library Guild Selection and Shortlist for 2022 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards). She was born in a California beach town and now lives with her husband and three cats in Elkhart, Indiana. You can learn more about her at her website.
CADENCE AND KITTENFISH: A MERMAID TALE is the story of a young mermaid who falls madly in love with kittens when she first sets eyes on them. From there it’s this little mer-girl’s desperate desire to have a pet that doesn’t like water. I admit I never even thought of a mermaid and a pet, but this is the perfect pairing. There’s already a natural problem with the characters and the story delivers quite a few laughs along the way. Sharp-eyed readers will also see hints of the solution in the illustrations (if they pay close enough attention). I suspect that this is a story that will be read and re-read by little mermaid lovers everywhere.
Me: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey? What brought you to writing and the path to this picture book being published?
Judith: I’ve written stories and poems ever since I could write, and I wanted to write for children early on. My path involved an English degree and lots of workshops and conferences. I was published before I graduated college, but my luck was in poetry, not children’s fiction. I think it took about another 20-25 years before that dream came true.
This picture book was acquired by the same editor, Allison H. Hill, who acquired Venetian Lullaby, only she acquired it for a different publisher. Cadence and Kittenfish is published by Starry Forest Books, not Page Street Kids.
Me: Wow, what a journey! I love this story. I don’t think I’ve seen a mermaid and kitten pairing before! What gave you the idea for this story?
Judith: Thank you! Well, cats are always on my mind. I think I was noodling on what happens when you’re a kid and you can’t have a pet for any number of reasons (ex: living in an apartment that doesn’t allow them). And then the most fun reason I could think of for not being able to have a cat was being a mermaid.
Me: What does your writing process look like?
Judith: I do a lot of free writing to get going. Sometimes I happen on a phrase or idea that strikes me. Taking a shower puts me in the right space to dream up stories. And I revise endlessly. If I really like a story and it doesn’t get an acceptance, I’ll just keep working on it.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Judith: I was surprised to find out after I’d already written it that there aren’t sea otters on the east coast, which is where I pictured Cadence living. But I have since visited sea otter dwelling places in California, and Cadence could certainly live there if she wanted to!
Me: The illustrations by Jaclyn Sinquett are wonderful. I especially loved the inside of the mermaid house and those playful end papers. Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Judith: Yes, I was surprised by the inside of the mermaid house! And by Dad being an underwater farmer. Jaclyn has a wonderful imagination.
Me: I agree! Speaking of illustrations, I have to ask if you included art notes at all about what animal would be her pet by the end of the story, or hiding that animal on almost every page? That was SO cleverly done!
Judith: Yes, I had an art note at the top of the manuscript because it was crucial to me that the sea otter, Kittenfish, was visible to the reader throughout the story. I thought it would be fun for kids to be able to look for him and to feel more observant than Cadence was being. And yes, of course it had to be a sea otter! They are so very kittenish. I left it up to the illustrator on most of the pages as to what Kittenfish was doing, though.
Me: I love that. Any advice for other picture book writers?
Judith: Just the usual—read lots of picture books. Find a good critique group and be open to what they have to say about your manuscripts. Persevere. It’s rarely easy to break in, but if you don’t work at it, your odds are much slimmer. Write from the heart.
That’s great advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog Judith.
Dear readers, this book is released on September 13th, but you can preorder now! This is definitely a story I can’t wait to add to my own bookshelf.