Cover Reveal and Interview Extravaganza! See The Dog: Three Stories About a Cat with David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka
It’s like I always say. A book goes and wins a Geisel Award and next thing you know it’s flouting about the town, dropping sequels like candy at a parade, living the high life. That’s a mighty roundabout way of saying that I have in my possession today the cover of the SEQUEL to the Geisel Award-winning title See the Cat. Yep yep yep. I most certainly do. AND on top of that, I also have an interview with creators David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka. Considering how big a fan I was of their award winner, this is a real treat.
But first, what precisely is the plot of this new book See the Cat? Behold:
What happens when a cat tries to be a dog? With this second wry primer, the creators of See the Cat return to demonstrate that standing in for a friend can be trickier than expected.
The dog is sick today, but have no fear—the cat is happy to take his place! But when the book (who is very bossy) tells her to dig a hole, the dirt-averse cat finds a way to accomplish the task while keeping her fur pristine. And when the book demands that she fetch a stick (in the water!) or guard a sheep (from a wolf!), the cat responds in very un-doglike ways. Can the book and the cat reach a happy ending? With simple, repetitive phrases and tongue-in-cheek humor, this spoof on a classic early reader pits a well-meaning but slightly dramatic cat against a highly persistent book in a comical battle of wits that will have kids yowling.
Yowl. On a related note, my son’s in the first grade (virtually, naturally) and he has to do a lot of independent reading. What book would he prefer to read over and over and over again, if I let him? See the Dog. So as you can see, I have skin in this game. I also have questions and those questions need answers.
Betsy Bird: First off, congrats to both of you on your recent Geisel win! My 6-year-old son can attest that had SEE THE CAT not won a thing there was going to be a very angry librarian in Evanston, Illinois that morning. Things would have been broken, let’s just leave it at that. Just to start us off, David, what’s the origin story of SEE THE CAT in the first place? Just to give us some background here.
David LaRochelle: First of all, thank YOU, Betsy, for all of your support for SEE THE CAT. Your enthusiastic review of the book last July was an enormous bright spot during this pandemic.
I’ve always wanted to write a story where the book was one of the characters. In fact, I DID write a story where the book was the main character: IT’S A TIGER! But my editor felt that the character of the book wasn’t necessary to the storyline, so it was cut. I’ve also always wanted to write a story where the illustrations didn’t match the text. I suppose those two ideas were jumbling around in my head when I started writing SEE THE CAT.
BB: Mike, how did you get pulled into the first book?
Mike Wohnoutka: David and I have been close friends since I joined his critique group 11 years ago. Our first collaboration was MOO! in 2013. Just like with MOO!, when David brought in SEE THE CAT to one of our critique group meetings, I knew instantly I wanted to be the illustrator. Since David is a very talented illustrator himself, I always feel a little silly telling him I want to illustrate his stories because he would do a wonderful job himself. So, after the meeting in which David read SEE THE CAT, I sheepishly told him I would be interested in illustrating the story. He enthusiastically told me he was hoping I would say that. I am one lucky illustrator!
BB: Aww. So David, now we see a sequel here and I gotta say I’m happy. Of course, when I hear that the second book in this series stars a cat, I have to ask: Is its name Baby Cakes? Failing that, did you always intend to make a sequel or did this just come to you unexpectedly?
DR: I definitely did NOT plan on writing a sequel! As Mike knows, I’m not a big fan of sequels. I was afraid I’d fall into the trap of simply telling the same story over again which I did NOT want to do. Mike, however, kept encouraging me to try a follow-up. When I balked, he said, “David, I even have the title: SEE THE DOG: THREE STORIES ABOUT A CAT.” That was a lightning flash moment. Suddenly I saw a different approach to this story. Yes, the cat in this book is definitely Baby Cakes. Even though she makes such a brief appearance in SEE THE CAT, she’s always had a strong personality to me, especially with the way Mike drew her. It was her personality that drove the storyline for SEE THE DOG. Usually my ideas are plot driven, but SEE THE DOG was taken over by Baby Cakes.
BB: Mike, that’s a heckuva cute cover on the sequel here. You have a really nice way of simplifying a character right down to its most essential parts. When making this cat, what was most important to emphasize on this jacket?
MW: Thank you for those kind words! I really wanted to emphasize Baby Cakes’ strong personality. On the cover of SEE THE CAT, Max is obviously upset, hands on his hips and glaring up at the book title. With SEE THE DOG, Baby Cakes is oblivious of the title. All she cares about is that she’s the star of this book and I wanted to show that excitement. Lauren Pettapiece, the excellent designer at Candlewick, amplifies this emotion with the yellow background and the red type.
BB: David, I’ve been so pleased to see you really dig down deep into the world of easy and beginner books. But why the switch from picture books? And how hard are they to write?
DL: It was the story itself that pointed the way to the format of an easy reader. I’m fortunate in that I have a simple brain, and thinking in simple sentences comes natural to me. Trying to tackle a novel on the other hand feels overwhelming, like wrestling with an avalanche. But the challenge of telling a compelling story with short sentences and simple words…well, that feels fun, like a puzzle. And that’s key; even though the story is for beginning readers, it’s got to be as engaging as a story for more accomplished readers. No matter what your reading ability, everyone wants a good story. I’d even say that beginning readers deserve especially engaging stories, so that they’ll be motivated to keep practicing their new skills.
BB: Mike, is there any animal that you’re really hoping David doesn’t put in this book series because you really don’t want to illustrate them?
MW: Yes. Horses! In SEE THE CAT, David originally had Baby Cakes riding in on a horse. I suggested changing it to a unicorn. I told David that I thought kids would find a unicorn much funnier, but really I just didn’t want to have to draw a horse!
BB: And finally, to the both of you, what are you guys working on next?
MW: I am currently working on the sketches for the third installment of this series, SEE THE GHOST: THREE STORIES ABOUT THINGS YOU CANNOT SEE.
DL: We are very fortunate to have four more books coming out with Candlewick. HOW TO APOLOGIZE, comes out in May. SEE THE DOG: THREE STORIES ABOUT A CAT comes out in September. And beyond that, we have another picture book, GO AND GET WITH REX, and the third book in the series, SEE THE GHOST: THREE STORIES ABOUT THINGS YOU CANNOT SEE. I’ve never had so many books lined up, and it makes me proud and happy, especially since Mike is illustrating all of them. I’m also noodling with some new picture book ideas and a beginning reader story that does NOT involve a dog or a cat!
BB: But does it involve a horse . . . ?
And now, the moment of truth. Behold the cover in all its easy book glory!!!
Great oodles of thanks to both David and Mike for having the time and patience to answer my questions. Thanks too to Rachel Johnstone and the folks at Candlewick for the reveal. See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat is on bookstore shelves everywhere September 14, 2021.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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