Tag Archives: children’s literature

What Happened to the Cat Who Came to Visit?

A couple of weeks ago I told you the story of the cat who came to visit our yard and how we trapped him so he wouldn’t get eaten by a local predator. I had him neutered and took him to the no-kill shelter where Perry was put into the ISO room until he could be vaccinated and microchipped.

Although the vet and vet techs that did the surgery on Perry realized he was not feral because he was affectionate and even let them handle his family jewels (before the big heist), once he got put into that tiny cage in that little room right next to the big dog room (with their loud chorus of barking) he became withdrawn and very unhappy with humans.

The shelter began to wonder if somebody had made a mistake or even lied about Perry being a stray, but domesticated cat. Maybe he really was feral and, if so, what would the shelter that is designed for putting friendly cats in together until they get adopted into loving homes do with him?

I talked to the wonderful organization Alley Cat Allies that works to better the plight of feral cats and to the spay and neuter clinic that had done Perry’s surgery. It seemed clear to anybody not witnessing him at the shelter that he was not feral. I’ve gone to the shelter every day, but only for a short period of time, to read to him and (don’t tell anyone, please) sing to him.¬†

Perry’s favorite book

He seems to like the “Riddle Song” and “Billy Boy,” two of my specialties. I put an extra stanza in the latter that always seemed missing from the original. I am careful to show him the illustrations in the picture books and notice that his eyes track the images as if he is really examining them. I find that interesting . . . .

Using a soothing, but pleasantly expressive voice while reading to cats and dogs is very effective with them. It doesn’t get done often enough because of time constraints. Consider reading to shelter animals near you or bring children who are early readers so they can practice their reading skills out on the very nonjudgmental animals. In the Curious George book, Mr. Herb gets angry with George, but I am careful not to show that in my voice to Perry who can’t handle that kind of emotion right now.

The techs and volunteers couldn’t get Perry out of the tiny cage in ISO to move him to a big 3 story cage in the roaming room so that he could have better accommodations and get to know other cats and humans, too, and we don’t have a “cat den,” where a frightened cat goes to hide and the “door” can be shut so you can move him. But finally our cat volunteer and staff member ROCKSTAR Judy maneuvered him into a kennel and moved him to the new cage in the big room. I didn’t get involved in this for two reasons. One is that I want to be a safe person for him, one he doesn’t associate with grabbing and other mean shenanigans. The other reason is my primary lymphedema. Cat bites and scratches can be very dangerous for someone with lymphedema, so I am always aware when working and playing with cats that are not my own (and even my own).

Yesterday afternoon I was heartened that Perry was no longer in his cave. He was sitting in his litter box (hahaha) on the bottom level of the cage. I had put a skirt of towels around the bottom, so maybe that was why. I assume he was in the litter box rather than the soft bed next to it because that bed might be too soft compared with what he is used to outside. I opened the skirt in front and sat on the floor to read to him. Another new cat, Oreo (a very friendly guy), crawled into my lap and stuck his nose in the book. Although I used the book as a little shield between the two cats so Perry wouldn’t get spooked, Perry was quite good at Oreo being so close and even meowed once at him. He also meowed at me and gave me eye blinks, both good signs that he is thawing.

I don’t yet know Oreo’s story, but he and another cat share a cage (that he happened to be out of at the time) and both wear lime green collars. That makes me guess somebody turned them into the shelter because they couldn’t keep them any longer. ūüė¶ New cats generally stay in cages inside the roaming room until they are used to the room and the other cats. Because the two cats are together and are wearing collars, they didn’t live outside like Perry did so they are more social.

Please send good thoughts Perry’s way that he loses his fear (terror) and begins to show his affectionate nature so that he can work his way toward the perfect home for him.

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With my son’s wedding coming up and other family matters, the only thing I am able to handle right now in addition to work is trying to do a little promotional stuff for¬†Kin Types. Finishing Line Press is very good about providing a sample promo packet, along with sample press releases and the likes, but it all takes TIME, a phantom-like wisp that I have been chasing but not catching for a few weeks now. So although a few ideas for writing have crossed my mind (and disappeared into the horizon) I definitely

#amnotwriting

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction, Writing

Disney and Me:A Memoir

A memoir is usually focused on a specific thread or time period of a writer’s life, whereas autobiography is “my chronological life story.”

One of my favorite books is an autobiography that I would argue is a memoir because of its focus on the writer’s artistic life as an artist and writer. It’s a children’s book that is¬†also a book for adults.

I’ve mentioned the book here in a previous post:¬†Disney animator, illustrator, and writer Bill Peet’s Caldecott Honor Book,¬†Bill Peet: An Autobiography.

Autobiography for children and adults of one of Disney's great illustrators, Bill Peet

Autobiography for children and adults of one of Disney’s great illustrators, Bill Peet

The book is 190 pages–longer than a traditional picture book; however, it won an award as a Caldecott Honor Book in 1990 because the book is fully illustrated–there is at least one illustration on each page, along with engaging text.

Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney on many movies, shorts, TV shows, books–even Peter Pan peanut butter. He wrote the original (1961)¬†101 Dalmatians, working from Dodie Smith’s book. Disney asked Peet to “plan the whole thing: write a detailed screenplay, do all the story boards, and record voices for all the characters. That had been a job for at least forty people on¬†Pinocchio¬†in 1938, but if Walt thought I could do it, then of course there was no question about it.”

Throughout the book, Peet’s desire to pursue his own artistic endeavors is constantly at odds with first school and then his job at Disney. If you are an artist or a writer, you will feel that, in some ways, his story is your story.

In many great memoirs, readers learn about other characters in addition to the narrators. Peet’s book presents a complicated and somewhat frightening Walt Disney. The simplest disagreement could cause Disney to put an employee “in the doghouse,” and then other employees would give that person “the silent treatment.” He even shows a scene where Disney comes in to Peet’s office and unburdens himself about his own difficult childhood. While there isn’t anything in the book that isn’t appropriate for children, there is enough texture–enough “teeth”–to the book that makes for a fascinating read for adults, too.

Pear Blossom checking out Bill Peet's book

Pear Blossom checking out Bill Peet’s book

The illustrations are all by Peet himself, and you will recognize the classic Disney look. By the story, you will learn how much of Peet’s creations are part of that Disney look and of the Disney stories you or your parents have grown up with.

Something about this book stimulates my mind and my heart. I think I have a crush on the book. I love chatting about it.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Literature, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

Do We All Need to Share the Same Building Blocks of Story?

Ten or fifteen years ago I learned not to take even basic assumptions for granted.

I used to teach a course called “Children’s Literature” at a public university. My students were future teachers–mainly K-8, but also secondary school.¬†¬†A large percentage of them were¬†first and second generation and primarily from Mexico/Central America.

Children’s literature¬†is¬†divided into different genres of lit, just as is literature for adults.¬† For children, the genres include picture books, young adult novels, poetry, traditional literature, and more. Traditional lit covers fairy tales, folk tales, and myths. Picture books based on “Hansel and Gretel” or “The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly” are both picture books and traditional lit.

I liked to teach stories from the different continents. I particularly enjoyed taking a tale, such as “Cinderella,”¬†which is told in various parts of the world and looking at the cultural differences.¬† Seven hundred folk¬†(pre-picture books and movies) versions of this one tale exist.

One academic quarter, I got a flyer in my department mailbox about a play being put on by the drama department. It sounded ideal as it was coming at a time we were studying folk and fairy tales. The play was a spoof on some of the traditional tales. Since it occurred ten to fifteen years ago, I can’t remember for sure which tales were included or who wrote it, but they were very well-known tales–maybe “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “Goldilocks.”¬† I brought a couple of my classes to a performance of the play. It was hilarious; I laughed all the way through.

At least, I thought it was hilarious. But most of my students sat there stone-faced. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

The next time class met, we discussed our responses to the play. It turned out that most of my students had never been exposed to these basic tales of the English-speaking and European worlds.  Without knowing the originals, the parodies made no sense.

That showed me that we don’t all share as many of¬†the same basic building blocks of culture, as I had imagined. I knew that these stories were widely available in Spanish, so that wasn’t the problem.

To accommodate my students, I thought, well then, we can spend more time integrating Mexican tales of La Llorona and Quetzalcoatl. Some students thought this was great.

Espa√Īol: La LLorona, leyenda Nederlands: La_Ll...

Espa√Īol: La LLorona, leyenda¬†Nederlands: La_Llorona, Mexicaanse folklore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I had another disappointment when¬†I discovered that so many students didn’t have knowledge of tales from the country of their birth or their parents’ birth either. And why? They said their parents didn’t tell them stories. They didn’t have time–too busy working and too tired when they weren’t.

It wasn’t too late, though. It might have been college, but we were in the luxurious world of¬†Children’s Literature, so we read all the tales I could fit into the class. The parodies and revisions worked¬†well together with the originals, but not on their own. That’s ok. It made us all better readers to look at them side-by-side.

So now my pedogogical and philosophical question is: do we all need to share the same building blocks of story?

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

That’s Some Pig

From the time we learn the words abracadabra or open sesame, we know that words can be magic. When adults tell children to “say the magic word,” meaning please or thank you, children see the cause and effect of magic words.

Certain books use words in a way that work magic on us, making them live on inside us for the rest of our lives. ¬†Just thinking about these books can be magical.¬† Robert Frost’s poetry. Jeffrey Masson’s When Elephants Weep. Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Donne. Harriet Arnow’s The Dollmaker. King Lear.

Sometimes naming even seems to work some magic on the recipient of the name. When I called my orange cat Macavity, after the T.S.Eliot master criminal cat, I might have inadvertently caused him to steal all my earrings.¬† One of my tuxedo cat’s middle names is Jellicle Jill, and like Eliot’s Jellicle cats, she dances all night. In the morning I find her toys strewn around the house.

Even one word can resonate with magic.¬† For me a word which reverberates with magic is radiant–and all because of E.B. White and his children’s classic Charlotte’s Web. When I first read that Charlotte spun out that word in Wilbur’s pen and saw how Wilbur lived up (key word in this sentence is “up”) to it, I could never see that word the same again. Think of Wilbur who jumps and spins in the air to prove he’s radiant.¬† He begins to feel radiant from the inside. Then Mrs. Arable gives him a buttermilk bath, so that he looks radiant to others. But he was always radiant–he just had to find that quality within himself and act upon it.

I’ve been reminded of Wilbur every morning by the label on my new face cleanser by Burt’s Bees: Radiance. I feel akin to Wilbur, being an average Jenny like most of us are (Average Joes and Jennies) and how nice it is to try to live up to the radiance that bottle offers. ¬†Then I think of how terrific Wilbur discovered he could be, but how humble he stayed.¬† After all, it was Charlotte’s hard work that allowed him to discover all that he could be–all that he could live up to.

When Charlotte wrote that Wilbur was some pig she was saying Wilbur really was a good soul, and that all pigs can be such. Her description of Wilbur connects back with Mrs. Arable’s comment on the very first page: “‘Some pigs were born last night.'” [my italics] All those pigs had the potential when they were born to be more than they were, just as Wilbur did.

Although it’s nice to have a good friend like Charlotte as a helper, all of us average Joes and Jennies can live up to the magic words we find in our lives. You might find yours in the Bible or in a novel or a play. You might find yours from the mouth of a friend or stranger.

As you age, you might add more and more magic words to your treasury. For me, “That’ll do, pig,” from the movie Babe layered on “some pig” in my memory bank. These words resonate with appreciation for the effort we put into our daily lives. Our hard work makes our lives glow radiantly as we try to live up to our potential.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Nonfiction, Writing