Sunday, October 3, 2021

Q&A with Cheryl Cage




Cheryl Cage is the author of the Norman the Interested Cat series of picture books for kids. She is a political consultant, and she lives in Tucson, Arizona.


Q: Why did you decide to write a book in your Norman the Interested Cat series about the importance of masks (Norman the (Interested in Keeping Friends Healthy) Cat)?


A: During the first months of the pandemic I was so distressed that so many adults were howling against using an easy (and life-saving) approach to staying well. I know how easy it is for those adults to transfer that attitude to children. 


My dog, Jake, is a howler. One day when he was sharing his displeasure about something with me I thought, “Jake, I bet I’d have to explain step-by-step why you should wear a mask.” In Jake, I saw all those howling, misinformed adults.  


Within a day I had written a book where Norman calmly, and with facts, convinces Jake on the importance of keeping everyone healthy by practicing easy steps to keeping illness at bay. And, I make it clear that Jake is NOT DUMB, just misinformed!


Q: Why do you think the issue has become so political, and do you think those divisions can be overcome?


A: We are now 18 months into this pandemic and, although I’ve worked in politics for the past 20 years, I am STILL gobsmacked by the incivility surrounding this public health tool. 


A mask is an easy symbol. It covers the mouth, which many uninformed individuals seem to believe is a representation of their opinion that they are not being heard, and will not, even to the detriment of others, “cover their mouths” (read: “you won’t muzzle me”). 


It’s dangerous, it’s uninformed and it has prolonged everyone’s suffering.


I wish I knew an easy fix as to how these divisions could be overcome. But, for me, it’s going to be a long-term solution of better public schools that begin early to teach appropriate public health through science. 


Q: How did you initially come up with the idea for a series about Norman?


A: I’ve been working exclusively within politics since 2005. And, in my experience, there seems to be one of two things that happen when you work in politics for a long time; you either become a cynic or you find another outlet to help institute meaningful change. 


Fortunately for me I found my new outlet when I became friends with Norman, my good friend’s cat. I really got to know Norman in 2015 when he came to live with me while his family’s house was being completed. (As a dog person, having a cat as a housemate was new to me.)


The country was deep into the upcoming 2016 presidential election and I was working on a local campaign. Respectful and meaningful debate seemed to be becoming a lost art.


I was doing laundry one day and Norman was sitting near me being very attentive.  I looked at him and said, “Norman, you are an incredibly interested cat. What do you think about what’s going on these days?”


I began making up rhymes about Norman’s potential interests and opinions. It felt so cathartic to give a voice to all my anxieties. I started thinking how great it would be if you could introduce difficult topics through a calm and empathetic character. 


At the same moment, I realized adults would be a hard sell, but children might be interested! Could I develop an endearing character who modeled calm conversations and used critical thinking to develop an opinion?  Could my character be kind and patient but still strong in character? 


That week I wrote Norman the (Interested in Everything) Cat. Norman has appropriate self-esteem and an empathetic approach, but he is also his own cat! His individuality makes him a little stubborn. (Because, of course, no one’s perfect.) 


Q: What do you hope kids take away from your books?


A: My life would be complete if I knew that a child who didn’t have a strong support system at home found some advice and comfort through Norman’s adventures.


Like many people, my childhood wasn’t all roses. My parents were loving and generous but communication was not a strong suit. As a result, I remember times when I had to work through a situation by myself without a lot of direction. 


I want Norman to be a friend and mentor.


I’ve worked very hard to share Norman’s adventures and outlook without judgement and with care for how different we all are.


So far I’ve written about the joy of truly being oneself - Norman the (Interested in Everything) Cat; the importance of caring for everyone in your community - Norman the (Interested In Keeping Friends Healthy) Cat; gender equality - Happy Clothes; handling hurt feelings - Audie Finds Her Smile; and how to handle winding down after a tough day - Sweet Dreams (available Nov. 15th, 2021). 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a huge list of book subjects for Norman to opine! 


My fifth book, Sweet Dreams, will be available Nov. time for the holidays!


Norman’s music is very important to Norman and each book has its own song. I continue to work with my talented music director, Nick Coventry, on lyrics and music for new books. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Although my books are available on Amazon, it would be appreciated if people could order Norman’s adventures through his


I am available for Zoom book readings (schools, bookstores, PTO’s, etc.). Each of my readings include two books and two songs (we ALWAYS dance)! These book readings are FREE as they allow me to introduce Norman to new friends. 


We are working on a Norman TV channel on YouTube. 


Thank you for being interested in Norman!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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