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Kids Book Author Interview with When a Tree Grows’ Cathy Ballou Mealey

AN INTERVIEW WITH CATHY BALLOU MEALEY

DEBUT AUTHOR OF

WHEN A TREE GROWS

Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska

(Sterling Children’s Books; Fiction, Ages 3-7)

 

when a tree grows book cvr

 

Review:

Her new book, When a Tree Grows, is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.

What’s a moose to do? If he’s got an itch on his antlers he could try scratching it on a tree for relief while his forest friends watch worriedly OR that tree could come crashing down onto a sleeping bear’s cave. CRASH-BOOM! That innocent action sets off a series of humorous events certain to bring out the smiles and laughter when read aloud to children, adding an emphasis on the sound effects presented in big and bold font.

Ultimately Moose manages to avoid a swerving truck and remain in the woods while a sassy squirrel hops on board the vehicle and heads into “the big city.” Squirrel envisions becoming a big star but when dreams of grandeur or a job fail to materialize, he longs for forest life. Will he find a way to get home and if he does, what will happen? Find out in this adorable, page-turning tale of what ifs with a happy ending that will not just satisfy but delight.

I love the sweet, digitally rendered illustrations by Kasia Nowowiejska, especially how she’s incorporated an acorn into the title. All of the forest friends are adorable although I’m partial to the wild boar. I’d like to see him in another story someday. Cathy’s come up with a clever premise for her debut picture book that will hook youngsters who’ll wonder where Moose’s and Squirrel’s misadventures will lead.

About the Author:

Debut author Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Interview:

Good Reads With Ronna: Do you recall how we met?

Cathy Ballou Mealey: I’m looking forward to meeting IRL one day when our coastal paths cross! I recall subscribing to Good Reads with Ronna so I would not miss any of the stellar picture book reviews. After commenting on a few posts (OK, probably a lot of posts) I think we exchanged emails about adding me to the GRWR review team! What’s your recollection Ronna?

GRWR: Aww, thanks Cathy! I recall one day noticing I’d gotten several thoughtful post comments from a woman with the middle name of Ballou, the same name of the title character from one of my favorite films, “Cat Ballou” starring Jane Fonda. I asked if you knew the film. When you did I figured you were close to my age and we might have more in common than just a love of kidlit.

tea and cookies GRWR: What is an average CBM day like including beverage of choice and snacks? 

CBM: My writing work is 100% done during the hours that my kids are at school. First I check email and respond to anything pressing. I try to post on Instagram next, peek at other social media, and then delve into writing, research or revising. I’m fueled by Earl Grey tea and Pepperidge Farm cookies, usually!

GRWR: Okay, now we have even more in common, but I’ll admit I’ve had to cut back on my Milano cookies consumption!

GRWR: On a down day, what/who are 3-5 of your go-to spirit lifter books or authors? 

CBM: Thankfully, those days are few and far between. Although my first love will always be picture books, MG or YA are my preference for escapist reading about finding hope and building resiliency. I just devoured Kevin Henkes’ Sweeping Up The Heart, Sharon Creech’s Saving Winslow, and Kate Allen’s The Line Tender. Next up are two books I am savoring for the second time, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk and Linda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys.

GRWR: If you could be reincarnated as any animal which one wsea otters book cvr ould it be and why? 

CBM: Definitely an otter. Doesn’t everyone love an otter? Whether river or sea, I’d love to juggle pebbles and float on my back, holding paws with my buddies. Doesn’t that sound ideal?

Author Cathy Ballou Mealey and child at NH White MtnsGRWR: Beach baby, city tripper or mountain mama? 

CBM: Yes! Oh, I have to choose one? I love the sun, sand and tides of the summer beach because New England can be chilly! City tripping is fab for museums, bookstores and unique food options, but I could skip crowds, concrete and mass transit. Fresh air and mountain vistas thrill me, but not so much the switchbacks! So I’ll take a tiny taste of all three please, in alternating doses! BTW, that’s Cathy with her daughter in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

buckwheat zydecoGRWR: Does music play a big role or any role in your life? 

CBM: I like to write in quiet, and I’m an “NPR in the car” driver. Seeing live music is a real treat when I can get out. One of the best concerts I ever attended was Buckwheat Zydeco at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Garden. Music plays a role in my work when I’m writing in rhyme, because I feel the beat and crescendo of the lines and words in a different way. It’s hard to explain, but I want the tone and structure to feel musically resonant and complete!

GRWR: What’s in the pipeline?

CBM: Next up for me is a still-secret, super funny picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

Keep up with Cathy here:

Website: https://cathyballoumealey.wordpress.com/about/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CatBallouMealey

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/catballoumealey/

GIVEAWAY:

Cathy has generously offered two fab prizes to accompany this post! She’ll be happy to giveaway a #PB critique to one person (1000 words or less please!) and a signed copy of When a Tree Grows to another. (US residents only please). So whether you’re a writer or a reader, there’s something here for you! To enter please leave a comment on this post. Get a bonus entry for following me @goodreadsronna on Twitter or @goodreadswithronna on Instagram, but please let me know in your comment. Receive another bonus entry for following Cathy on social media mentioned above. This giveaway opportunity will end at 11:59 pm Pacific Time on Monday, July 1. Good luck and thanks for stopping by the blog!

 

  • Thanks tons, Cathy, for taking time away from your tea and cookies to help us all get to know you better. I knew I already liked you lots after our years of communicating online. Could you tell that I really wanted to ask you many more questions? Guess I’ll leave that until your next picture book releases in two years. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be your pen (okay Mac) pal and cannot wait for the day we meet IRL!

If you’re like me and you enjoy getting some interesting insight into Cathy and her writing, I recommend reading these other interviews about her below:

For writers, Susanna’s post has the most detail re: a debut PB:  https://susannahill.com/2019/04/02/tuesday-debut-presenting-cathy-ballou-mealey/
For a post with a children’s activity and a “what comes next” challenge, check out Kathy’s:  https://celebratepicturebooks.com/2019/05/07/may-7-its-get-caught-reading-month/
For a wacky, waffle read, there’s Mike’s post:  https://mikeallegra.com/2019/04/30/waffles-with-writers-cathy-ballou-mealey/

 

 

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H is For Haiku – For Mother’s Day, Give the Gift of Poetry

H IS FOR HAIKU:
A TREASURY OF HAIKU FROM A TO Z
Written by Sydell Rosenberg
Illustrations and lettering by Sawsan Chalabi
With a forward by Amy Losak
(Penny Candy Books; $16.95, ages 4 and up)

H is For Haiku cover illustration

I cannot think of a more fitting tribute for Mother’s Day than to share this moving and thoughtful collection of haiku that Amy Losak, daughter of late poet Sydell Rosenberg, assembled and submitted for publication. The release in April of Rosenberg’s picture book, H is For Haiku, was ” … the culmination of a decades-long dream,” says Losak. I’m so glad that Losak was determined to share her mother’s gift with children and that Penny Candy Books made that dream a reality. Now we get to reap the rewards—reading them! Over and over again.

 

Int. artwork by Sawsan Chalabi from H is For Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg PCB

Interior spread from H is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku From A to Z written by Sydell Rosenberg with illustrations and lettering by Sawsan Chalabi, Penny Candy Books ©2018.

 

It’s easy to tell when haiku comes from the heart as is the case for this New York inspired alphabetic haiku journey. Rosenberg’s homage to her city jumps off the pages and transcends time. Nothing escaped her observant eye, whether it was a bird, a parked car, a squirrel, an umbrella or a watering can. Having grown up in New York, I found so many favorites but I’ll try to pick out just a few. The rest will rely on you. No doubt you’ll agree that three simple lines of poetry can be oh so powerful.

With each letter comes a new delight, an awakening of the senses. Feel the wind blow alongside the gentle touch of petals in Plunging downhill/Petals falling in her hair/Girl on a bike or imagine your favorite ice cream flavor as you claim your spot on a long line in Queuing for ice cream/Sweat-sprinkled office workers/On Queens Boulevard. How amazing that in just 17 or so syllables (Rosenberg wasn’t a stickler) I could be transported instantly to my commuter days from decades ago when I took the subway daily to work! I recalled the heaviness of the humidity on my face, the barrage of assorted smells and the oppressiveness of the heat culminating with the need for a cool scoop of chocolate chip in a sugar cone. Rosenberg’s masterful haiku crafting shines yet again in Jumping Quietly/The cat follows a peach pit/Tossed from the terrace. Can you picture the fire escape or the cat jumping high to catch the pit before it hits the pavement?

 

Interior artwork by Sawsan Chalabi from H is For Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg PCB

Interior spread from H is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku From A to Z written by Sydell Rosenberg with illustrations and lettering by Sawsan Chalabi, Penny Candy Books ©2018.

 

The treasury includes imaginative and colorful artwork from Sawsan Chalabi. A particular favorite is letter D where she created a concrete poem in that she gives the haiku raindrop shapes adding to the sensation the language creates. The illustrations have an upbeat and retro feel at the same time and are not only pleasing to the eye but wonderful interpretations of Rosenberg’s words.

Treat yourself, your kids, friends and family to the joy that is H is For Haiku and see which ones resonate with you. Most importantly, listen to your mother, and your heart. Happy Mother’s Day!

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

Amy Losak’s comments:

“Years after Syd died in 1996, I took up her goal of publishing one of her kids’ manuscripts from the 1970’s/1980’s. She was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968, which was “born” in NYC. It turns 50 years old this year. (I am a member now too.) Many of mom’s “city haiku” reflect her urban surroundings and sensibility, but they are universal and timeless, as well.

Haiku are brief (they make perfect “pocket poetry”) but they impel readers to slow down and linger over something they may ordinarily overlook. As I say in my introduction, haiku help make so-called “small moments” big. Haiku is a way to enter with awareness into the world around us. Children and adults alike will relate to these evocative ‘word-pictures.'”

To order the book:
https://www.pennycandybooks.com/shop/haiku

Read more here:

https://www.pennycandybooks.com/blog-1/losak

http://readlearnandbehappy.blogspot.com/2017/04/happy-international-haiku-day-national.html

About the publisher:
PCB is dedicated to diversity in children’s literature. It’s a small, traditional press having “big conversations.”
Check them out at www.pennycandybooks.com or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

 

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Groundhug Day by Anne Marie Pace

GROUNDHUG DAY
Written by Anne Marie Pace
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
(Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Cover image for Groundhug Day

 

Groundhug Day is a picture book delight that seamlessly weaves a heartwarming and credible friendship story together with Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day holidays. Making a themed book that can be read on more than a few days each year is a feat few authors and illustrators attempt, but the winning combination of Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise have managed to pull this off quite successfully!

Moose is planning a Valentine’s Day party and he’d like to celebrate with all his pals. There is however just one little hitch. While Bunny, Porcupine and Squirrel can attend, if Groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, he’ll “go back into his hole for six more weeks.” In other words, he won’t emerge in time for February 14th festivities. So it’s no surprise that when Groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, he’s quick to head back down, but hints there’s more to it than that. Ever the intuitive one, Moose thinks perhaps his pal is afraid of shadows. Determined to show Groundhog that shadows aren’t scary at all, Moose enlists help from his friends to demonstrate “just how awesome shadows are.”

Here’s where young readers, already drawn into the story, will be treated to several beautiful pages of illustrations (in addition to to all the other striking artwork in warm welcoming tones) showing what wonderful things shadows are and can do. It’s easy to feel the joy both author and illustrator felt about creating this lovely picture book. More fun times are in store because, despite no longer being fearful of shadows, Groundhog must still get his six weeks of sleep! This tale, honoring the support that genuine friendship offers, is both a sweet and satisfying read that has all the feels you’d want from a picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau

ARGYLE FOX
Written and illustrated by Marie Letourneau
(Tanglewood Publishing; $17.99, Ages 3-7) 

Cover image of Argyle Fox

 

 

Author illustrator Marie Letourneau’s latest picture book, Argyle Fox, has a distinctly European feel about it. Maybe it’s Marie’s French sounding last name, maybe it’s the language, or maybe it’s the artwork. It could even be a lovely combination of all three, so I was surprised to read in the jacket flap copy that she actually lives on Long Island in New York, where I grew up!

The tale, one about the payoff that comes from perseverance and resilience, introduces us to Argyle Fox, a well-dressed and determined forest animal. Eager to play outside despite the windy spring weather, Argyle is cautioned by his mama that his desire to make a tower of playing cards on such a blistery day might be in vain. Not easily swayed, the plucky creature tries to no avail. Four more attempts at fun outdoor activities include dressing up like a spider and using yarn to make a web, pretending to be a pirate setting sail on a log ship, playing soccer and kicking what is supposed to be the winning goal, and battling a fire-breathing dragon as a fearless knight. Every time he makes up a new game, Argyle’s pals watch and warn him that the wind might disrupt things. Still he persists. Of course all of Argyle’s creative efforts are ruined by a “Whoosh” of the wind so he heads home. Mama Fox suggests that there still might be something to play with in the wind and leaves her youngster to his own devices. 

There’s a reason Argyle’s name is Argyle and that’s because his mama’s a big knitter. And what do knitters have lots of? Yarn! “Argyle went straight to work. He cut, tied, knitted, painted, and taped. Finally it was finished!” With all his forest friends in tow, this imaginative fox shows off his handmade kite and then gives all his friends their very own custom creations, too! Now the “Whoosh” sound is a welcoming one indeed!

Letourneau’s charming picture book makes for a marvelous read-aloud. Even as I read the book alone I found myself saying “Whoosh” out loud each time it appeared! Parents and caregivers can use the subject matter to start a conversation about imagination, creativity, and persistence after sharing the story. Together they can also look at all the adorable details Letourneau’s included in her illustrations while enjoying the cheery color palette, not to mention taking time to play all the fun games Argyle has played in the book.
With summer break around the corner and kids wanting to be outdoors, Argyle Fox is a welcome inspiration.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

ARGYLE FOX
Written & Illustrated by Marie Letourneau
Tanglewood Publishing 
Distributed by Publishers Group West 

 

BOOK ACTIVITY: http://www.tanglewoodbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Argyle-Kite-Activity-1.jpg

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR  www.marieletourneau.com

 

 
 

 

 

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New Thanksgiving Books for 2016

THANKSGIVING 2016
– A Roundup of Holiday Books –

 

Thanksgiving Countingthanksgiving-counting-cvr
A First Celebrations Book
Written by Barbara Barbieri McGrath
Illustrated by Peggy Tagel
(Charlesbridge; $6.95, Ages 0-3)

Going to relatives or friends for Thanksgiving and don’t know what to bring along to keep your little ones occupied and entertained? Why not consider buying a copy of this counting themed board book, part of the Charlesbridge’s First Celebrations series for the youngest readers in your family?  With its vibrant colored turkey cover, this new book introduces the first Thanksgiving and one ear of corn going all the way up to six multi-hued leaves falling from a tree and lots of scrumptious food in between. Thanksgiving Counting is a great way to get your children to observe all the decorations and food around the dinner table while learning to count all the wonderful things that make this holiday so enjoyable.

Wonderfallwonderfall-cvr
Written and illustrated by Michael Hall
(Greenwillow Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For Hall fans and those who also appreciate the art of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, Wonderfall is sure to delight. As the jacketflap says, “In this book you will discover 1 colorful tree, 2 scurrying squirrels, and 15 blended words created to celebrate the wonder of fall!” So much goes on around this one majestic oak tree. In 15 brief poems that tell the story of the people and animals that live and work near it, we see what an important role this tree plays as autumn turns into winter. Peacefall, Plentifall, Playfall,  Frightfall, Thankfall, and Watchfall, are just a few of Hall’s wordplay topics that culminate in Snowfall. The stories move from acorns dropping with a plink, plunk, plop to the magic of  fall’s magnificent colors. The tree is there to welcome trick-or-treaters, witness animals enjoying nature’s bounty and provide piles of leaves in which children frolick, and branches in which squirrels chase. A bonus for readers is the five pages of back matter containing great information about the tree, the animals that find shelter in it and get nourishment from its acorns. I’ll weigh in here with one more blended word that happens to be my reaction to reading this charming new picture book – Joyfall!

Thankfulness to Color:thankfulness-to-color-cvr
Gratitude to live and color by
Written and illustrated by Zoë Ingram
(Harper; $15.99, Ages 4 and up)

Coloring books are so popular right now and with the hectic holiday season upon us, there’s no better time to find a few quiet moments with your kids to decompress. Coloring helps foster creativity and mindfulness, and most of all, it’s calming. Adults and children alike will find the designs and quotes that Ingram has provided to be perfectly suited for  Thanksgiving. On the last page of Thankfulness to Color is a list of these quotes including Henry David Thoreau’s “I am grateful for what I am and have,” all of which have been woven into the plethora of beautiful patterns. Keep this book to enjoy with the family or give as a gift to your holiday hostess.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Here are links to our book reviews from previous Thanksgivings:

LITTLE CRITTER: JUST A SPECIAL THANKSGIVING
Written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer

BEST THANKSGIVING BOOKS – A ROUNDUP 2015

THE GREAT THANKSGIVING ESCAPE 
Written and illustrated by Mark Fearing

 

 

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My Cousin Momo by Zachariah OHora

MY COUSIN MOMO
by Zachariah OHora
(Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

MyCousinMomocvr.jpg

Momo, sporting tricolored head and wrist sweatbands along with a 35mm camera strapped around his neck, is exotic from the moment he arrives at his squirrel cousins’ home. From his hardsided yellow suitcase plastered with travel stickers (ACORN AIRWAYS, BUNNYLAND), we know that Momo likes to travel. After all, he is a flying squirrel.

Momo’s cousins and their forest friends can hardly wait for the visitor to soar into the air, but Momo seems shy. Alternative activities – such as playing superheroes or Acorn Pong – are not successful either. Poor Momo is deemed an awkward outsider. The narrator’s younger sister doesn’t hold back in expressing her disappointment, plonking her face with the pong paddle and kicking mushrooms in frustration.

Momo, tearful and dejected, starts to fill his suitcase. Even his camera gets packed away. Pangs of remorse grip his cousins. Thankfully, they redouble their efforts to make Momo feel at home, and discover the upside to trying things in new and different ways.

OHora’s text is direct, dry and funny. He nails the tone of an elementary school age narrator with precision. The illustrations are quirky and hip with inventive twists that capture the characters’ emotional highs and lows in bold, minimalist lines. Chunky black outlines and a dense but muted color palette give MOMO a rich vibrancy that bounces off the page. But there is still enough detail to delight the eye, from fluffy swirled squirrel tails to crisp cupcake liner pleats, OHora excels in depicting enticing textures. Peek under the dust jacket for a hidden surprise!

The last page leaves readers anticipating further funny, squirrely adventures. What could be better than mo’ Momo?

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of MY COUSIN MOMO from my library and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Bird & Squirrel on Ice by James Burks

Bird & Squirrel on Ice
Written and illustrated by James Burks
(Scholastic/Graphix; $8.99, Ages 7-10)

1397804682721

I knew I was in for a treat when I picked up James Burks’ most recent Bird & Squirrel graphic novel called Bird & Squirrel on Ice. This second book in the series brings the buddies to the South Pole where they’ve crash landed, despite Bird’s over-confident insistence on calling it “Another perfect landing!” They immediately encounter spear-wielding Sakari, an absolutely adorable purple-hued penguin who proclaims Bird to be The Chosen One.

“Legend tells of a day when a winged bird will fall from above …
And bring peace and prosperity to our penguin village.”

But there’s a catch. Being The Chosen One means battling to free the villagers from the voracious and exhausting appetite of The Great Whale. It doesn’t take long before the honor of becoming The Chosen One goes straight to Bird’s head, annoying the heck out of Squirrel. However, Bird’s antics while soaking up his newly found celebrity, will crack kids up! Burks definitely gets the mix of humor and adventure right in Bird & Squirrel on Ice, and is certain to pull in even reluctant readers. His colorful characters, gallivanting through panels filled with lots of chilly blues, are perfect for the South Pole setting. Scenes of ice and snow are fantastic as are all the ones including the penguin villagers and The Great Whale.

When Squirrel and Sakari learn that Bird is actually going to be sacrificed to appease the whale “for the good of the village,” these two team up and eventually get a rather reluctant Bird on board. The buddies and their penguin pal launch a last ditch effort to save Bird from being served up as whale food and in doing so demonstrate the bonds of friendship and trust.  This fast-paced story with its fantastic artwork and several satisfying plot lines invites multiple reads for those just getting into graphic novels, as well as for those more well-versed in the pleasures of this format.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Flashback Friday – Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein

Ol’ Mama Squirrel written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013, $16.99, Ages 3-5) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Ol-Mama-Squirrel-cvr.jpg

Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013.

Ol’ Mama Squirrel, having raised many litters, refuses to let any creature harm her young. Her loud and insistent scolding (“chook, chook, chook”) and threatening gestures scare away the bravest of foes. However, one day she meets up with a “great, growling grizzly bear …” who’s not so easily frightened.

Repetitive words and phrases (“and that takes care of that”), make this a lively and interactive read-aloud for young children. Simple words and word sounds in large font (“PLONK”) enabled my emerging readers to participate alongside more advanced readers. Together they all roared out the bear’s evil “WA-HA-HA” laugh (I do not have a quiet library).

Stein sprinkles some great vocabulary (“afoul,” “scamper,” “puny”), and puns throughout the story, enriching children’s language and comprehension skills. A dog, frightened away by Mama Squirrel exclaims: “this squirrel is crazy! … “They must put crazy powder in the nuts around here!” Grizzly bear threatens Mama Squirrel: “I’ll eat your whole family tree.”

The humorous and expressive illustrations not only extend the narrative but practically tell the story on their own. Reminiscent of his artistic work in Leaves, Stein uses deft strokes to suggest shapes and animate characters. Soft, muted watercolors and crayons fill in the outlines. Along with framed single page illustrations, Stein uses double page spreads to create larger than life characters, transforming Ol’ Mama Squirrel from a proud mother to a fearsome opponent. My students laughed uproariously at the two page spread of Mama Squirrel snarling “not on my watch buster” as she and her babies escape from grizzly bear.

The Caldecott winning author and illustrator of Interrupting Chicken has another hit on his hands –just ask my K-1 students who proclaimed Ol’ Mama Squirrel “…a superhero!”

Highly recommended for children ages 3 -6, but be prepared for a rousing story time!

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