Cathy Ballou Mealey is the author of the new children's picture book When a Tree Grows. She lives north of Boston.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for When a Tree Grows and for its alternating scenarios?
A: I was out in the woods, enjoying a nature hike with my family when we heard a distant, creaky Crash! Was it a falling tree? An animal? We froze, listened and after a long silence, hiked on. I began to wonder: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?
Building on that “OR” question, I framed a wacky story with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that “OR” spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect.
Q: What do you think Kasia Nowowiejska's illustrations add to the story?
A: When Sterling Children’s Books team looked for illustrators, Kasia’s adorable woodland animals won everyone’s hearts. I was especially surprised and delighted by the European flair in her sketches. Kasia added a cute hedgehog and bristly warthog that are fabulous, fun and unexpected!
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: To embrace the concept of OR!
It’s a very small word - just two letters - but it can be a powerful tool to imagine possibilities that open and expand your world. Sometimes “OR” can transform a problem into a challenge, broaden your interpretation, and re-frame your perception.
Beyond that grandiose goal, I’d be thrilled if young readers just had a good time reading and sharing a funny book with cute animals planting trees and enjoying the forest.
Q: What are some of your favorite picture books?
A: As a child, my favorite read-to-me book was Corduroy (Don Freeman), and my favorite picture book was Crictor (Tomi Ungerer). As I was learning to read, I loved the Richard Scarry’s colorful, carefully labeled Busytown books. No doubt my love of anthropomorphic animals stems from those early stories.
A recent book that I adore is the stunning collaboration from Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper, The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Next up for me is a still-secret picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel are involved. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb