It’s always a treat to have a guest post on the EMU’s Debuts blog, and it’s even treatier when that post is written by a fellow EMLA member! Today we have just such a treat! Without further ado, here is Curtis Manley, author of the just released picture book, THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ!
Before Internet memes, people had sayings about cats. A difficult—or impossible!—task could be “as hard as herding cats.” You might assume it would be obvious to everyone in the whole world that teaching cats to read would be even more difficult than herding them—and yet the main character of my newly published picture book tries to do just that (Spoiler alert: He succeeds!).
Nick loves books. Even though he named his cats, Verne and Stevenson, after authors, the cats don’t share Nick’s interest in stories. So, being the good friend that he is, Nick decides to teach his cats to read, too. Just as with young humans learning to read, equal progress is not made by all. A tantrum might even be involved before a solution is found…
Some book ideas remain largely unchanged through all the stages from inspiration to published book. Others, well… My story was inspired years ago when my young daughter began reading middle grade novels. She sank so deeply into those books that she was literally in another world—and it wasn’t the world in which her parents were asking her to do things…
And that’s what the earliest version of the story was about: a boy who loses his best friend, his cat, because the cat loses himself in books. But writing a picture book about the dangers of reading books is like shooting yourself in the foot. So I changed the story to make it about cats actually learning to read in the first place.
Personally, I’ve never been able to teach my cats to read anything more than the bag of cat treats. But I’m a non-fiction author at heart, so even though Nick’s story is made up, I had a lot of fun weaving-in real world information: I name-dropped titles of real books. I included some of the steps we all use to teach our kids to read. I made one of the cats a reluctant reader who has trouble getting interested in books in the first place. And I named that cat after a famous reluctant reader: Robert Louis Stevenson—the author of Treasure Island—who, before he could read, dictated stories to his mother and nurse and then illustrated them with his own drawings.
Something else that is harder than herding cats: getting a picture book published! But I had help. Lots of help. The story wouldn’t exist without my family. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere without my super agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. It wouldn’t be appearing without my editor’s interest in an early version (and continued interest in the seven revisions we then went through!). It wouldn’t be as good as it is without the eyes and ears of my wonderful critique group (which includes fellow agency siblings Laurie Ann Thompson, Kevan Atteberry, and Dan Richards). And it wouldn’t look so beautiful without the luminous illustrations by Kate Berube (don’t miss her apt and hilarious titles for the books on the library shelves!).
Oh… And you wouldn’t be hearing about it here without the generous offer of an Emu’s Debuts guest post! Thank you one and all!
Curtis Manley has been a store clerk, geochronology lab assistant, volcanologist, software design engineer, technical writer, and is now a picture book author. His debut, THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, is just out from Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster. Two more picture books—one fiction and one a folktale adaptation—are forthcoming in 2017. Curtis lives near Seattle with his wife, college-age daughter, and just one cat. You can visit him at curtismanley.com or on Facebook.