Interview with Alice B. McGinty, BATHE THE CAT
It's cleaning day, but the family cat will do anything to avoid getting a bath. So instead of mopping the floor or feeding the fish, the family is soon busy rocking the rug, vacuuming the lawn, and sweeping the dishes.
Max's Boat Pick:
BATHE THE CAT
Written by Alice B. McGinty and illustrated by David Roberts
Publisher: Chronicle Books (February 8, 2022)
You've written so many picture books on such a vast array of topics. Can you tell me the origin story behind Bathe the Cat? Such a simple idea, but such mischievous fun! ABM: "Thank you so much for inviting me here! It’s an honor to be interviewed and I’m excited to share with you! As to the origin of Bathe the Cat, I’d always wanted to write a funny book -- one that would make kids (and hopefully adults) laugh out loud. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to write something that funny. Most of my books are pretty serious. Others, like Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons might bring a chuckle, but they aren’t going to send anyone into hysterics.
Then, in November, 2013, I attended a writing conference and heard editor Melissa Manlove from Chronicle speak about breaking rules to create humor in picture books. I was inspired by her presentation and came home yearning to find a way to break some rules.
Still, no ideas presented themselves -- until the next morning. Completely by accident.
I was tired and coming down with a cold. As I padded around the house, I began to head upstairs to
brush my teeth. Because I knew I’d instantly forget why I was going up there, I began reciting 'brush
your teeth,' as I headed up. Then, realizing I also had to blow my nose, I added that to the refrain:
'brush your teeth, blow your nose.' On I went, until near the top of the stairs, I stopped. My refrain had
changed. I’d just said, 'Brush your nose. Blow your teeth.'
Right then, I knew exactly how I was going to break the rules to make humor. Over the next several days
I created the story that would become the book Bathe the Cat: a family needing to clean house. A list of
chores on the fridge. And last on the list, 'Bathe the cat.' When the cat mixes up the chores to get out
of being bathed, that’s when the fun begins: from feeding the dishes to scrubbing the fish…to mowing
the cat (but not really!)."
For those who love Bathe the Cat, can you recommend another picture book that you think they might also enjoy? "I will tell you a secret! I have recently written a companion book to Bathe the Cat and am hoping that the sales are strong enough for Bathe the Cat to entice the publisher to be interested in publishing it! I think it’s even funnier than Bathe the Cat and would love to see it out there in the world one day!"
I'm curious how the pairing with David Roberts as illustrator came about? When did you first see the illustrations and what was your initial reaction? "I knew when I was done writing the story that I wanted to submit it to Melissa Manlove at Chronicle, since her conference session had inspired the book. And she acquired it! It took quite some time for Chronicle to find an illustrator, but I was thrilled when David Roberts (Questioneers series) said yes. I love his work! And I knew when he wrote a note saying I’d written a 'corker' that he had a good connection with the text.
When I first saw David’s character sketches my initial reaction was surprise in seeing the family with the two dads. I’d imagined a family with a mom and dad when I wrote the story, but I was good with his interpretation and I welcomed the warm, diverse family he created.
I see the process of an author and illustrator combining to create a book as 1 + 1 = 3. When we both put
our full hearts into our work, creating from the essence of who we are, we end up with something much
more than the combination of the writing and illustrations. I think that’s what happened here and I hope
the book touches many people in many ways."
How amazing that you have a picture book review column! What are some recent picture books that you've really enjoyed? "Oh, there are SO many! I only review books that I love and I see that you love some of the same ones as well (I saw them on your site). These include, Have You Ever Seen a Flower (it captures a true sense of wonder about nature), Nigel and the Moon (the writing is direct and lovely and it captures a child’s sense of longing to share who he truly is inside), and Watercress (a beautifully crafted, deep story that introduces the world to a multicultural family). I will have to read the other books featured on your site. You have great taste!"
You teach writing classes and workshops. Are there certain authors that you have your students study as "masters of the craft"? Or are there certain titles you use to teach particular elements of writing? "Yes! Every year we focus on a different element of writing and use a mentor text to help us learn. Last year we focused on world-building and used two of Kat Falls’ books as mentors. We had a great opportunity for the campers do a Zoom Q&A with Kat at the end of each session. This summer we’ll be focusing on emotional journeys. Our two mentor texts are Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley for
the older campers and When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller for the younger campers. I’m looking forward to going in depth with my campers using these two awesome books!"
Your sons are all grown up now, but do you remember what you loved reading to them
when they were little? "We read a lot together when they were young. Some of their favorites were Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham (which my older son decided to read by himself when he was 3), Susan Meddaugh’s Martha Speaks, and poems by Mary Ann Hoberman, one of which we read as we twirled around on a chair together. Later, it was all about Harry Potter, which I read to them until they graduated from high school and left home!"
Do you have a favorite bookstore, and why do you love it? "I have lots of beloved bookstores, including Anderson’s Bookshop and The Book Stall in the Chicago area. But I think my all-time favorite is a small bookstore in Bayonne, NJ, called The Little Boho Bookshop. Alan (my partner and coauthor of The Sea Knows) and I stopped by there in July, 2020 when we did our 'March to the Sea' to promote our book (yes, in the midst of the pandemic). The owner was so warm and welcoming, and we could feel how this store, fairly new, was truly beloved by the community. It was inspiring!"