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Author Showcase

Welcome Peter Goodman to the Reading Tub

RT: Welcome to the Reading Tub, Peter! It seems our interview is purr-fectly timed. February is National Heart Month and your books are full of heart!

Although you're not a dad, you are a very proud uncle who is clearly involved in his nephews' worlds. Was there something about that relationship that inspired you to write your Kitty Cats Books series?

Peter: answer pending.

RT: The Kitty Cats Book series will cover ten subjects often on the forefront of parent-child discussions. How did you come to identify these social skills as your core themes?

Peter: I reflected on my childhood and the issues that I was confronted with. When my nephew Dylan was born, I thought about the same kinds of feeling/emotions that he would eventually experience. The list of themes I the issues I thought would be most relevant and useful for kids everywhere.

At the same time, I want children to be entertained with the series and the characters. I look at the series as a means to get parents to talk with their kids and teachers with their students about important issues early on.

Overall, I hope the books will be yet another tool for adults to use to help children explore their feelings and reactions to difficult situations. In the case of the debut book First Day of School the issue is the critical and pervasive topic of bullying.

RT: How have you prioritized the themes?

Peter: answer pending.

As a boy and young teen, I was the independent type. I didn’t feel comfortable in groups, and I often felt like I was on the outside. At the time, I remember wishing that I was part of the “popular clique” so I would feel accepted. It's a conflict, because you can't have it both ways. It's a universal feeling that passes from generation to generation. We all feel conflict (even as adults): are we going to be included or excluded? do I like doing my own thing or do I want to be popular? Those are the questions that underlie the series and are woven in all the themes.

RT: In creating the characters and / or books, did you set out to create a “brand” that would cross media? and if not, did those comments spur any ideas?

Peter: The parent company for the Kitty Cats children’s book series is dreamBIG Press. The name dreamBIG is appropriate because it encourages all kids to have a dream, whatever it may be, no matter how big.

As part of my creative process for each kitty cat character, I wanted cats that had distinct physical features. Then I sketched the character, looking for features that would represent a diverse community typically found in a classroom.The name of the company, stylized title of the series, and these soulful characters is essentially the “combined brand.”

Because both children and adults have been able to identify with one or more of the characters, it draws a further closeness with our intended audiences and the characters. That translates across the various media we have and are developing: educational curricula; iPAD/tablet apps for teachers and parents to engage kids; and fun products branded with the cats that include simple positive life messages.

RT: In your “day job,” you own Gut Instinct Creative. a web development firm that offers “creative services” for the education and nonprofit sectors. You’ve also written a book for adults about negotiation Win-Win Career Negotiations, Penguin Books 2002).

In both of these spheres, you are working with adults on broad issues and strategies. What has it been like to now, as a children’s author, engage kids in the broad issues of their world?

Peter: It is very special to be a children’s book author, especially because I am the uncle of two young nephews. When I started, I wanted to write a book for them. I wanted something they would enjoy hearing and reading. Now I see other kids get the same enjoyment out of the characters that my nephews do.

It has actually been somewhat easy for me to make the transition into children’s books because it transports me back to my childhood. Now I look at certain situations from my youth with a totally different perspective ... as an adult. All of the story lines, characters, and themes are things I can inherently relate to.

One of the cutest stories I have heard so far came from a mom who bought the Kitty Cats book for her 5-year old son. She told me that her son asked her to read the Kitty Cats book two times before bedtime and then wanted to sleep with the book. That, to me, is the best review I could possibly ever get!

RT: What's next for Carlos and friends?

Peter: I am quite excited about the second book in the series, A Field Trip to New York. New York City has such a magical quality, and all kids love field trips! Miss Bobsie takes her class of cats to New York City on a field trip. Before they go, she tells them that “It’s all about teamwork and it will be a way to learn more about your fellow kitty cats.”

Kids like being in control, especially when they are out of their comfort zone. Having to work together in an unknown environment - like a field trip - is hard. I thought the field trip made a naturally fun and interesting backdrop for the "educational" part of the story: collaboration is not only an important part of growing up but a great life skill.

RT: Jumping back to First Day of School for a minute,the last two-page spread of First Day of School offers questions that guide parents in opening discussions with kids. Did you work with educators or other experts in putting together that collection?

Peter: Yes. I worked with a team that included a child psychologist, mental health professional, and an educator. Their input on the last section of the book is what gives is such a well-rounded perspective. It was important to engage experts to help create the discussion questions because they are more familiar with specific questions that would foster communication between children and adults from a social/emotional point of view.

RT: Within the “For Parents and Teachers” and “Kids” sections of the Kitty Cats Book website, you offer a slew of resources related to bullying. In fact, one of the book’s reviewers commented about what great tools you had on the site. Since preschoolers (your audience) aren’t on the site - and aren’t likely able to do the word games, etc - why do you feel it is so important to have all this extra information?

Peter: Preschoolers can certainly enjoy the book and the characters, but the actual themes and activities are more for kids 5 to 9 (K-3). Candidly, when the project began I set the audience as "preschool" because I wanted to include my nephew’s age group as part of the audience.

What I have since learned from school visits and talking with parents and teachers is that older kids loved the book. This is the audience who "got" the core themes and the overarching bulling prevention message. So realistically the Kitty Cat Books series is for children a bit older.

RT: Do you envision expanding these resources for the other ten social skills areas you will be covering in the series?

Peter: We just completed a comprehensive bullying prevention curriculum, “Bully Free Students Make Bully Free Classrooms.” The content stems from the first book and includes five lesson plans and a teacher’s guide. It is geared toward K — Grade 3 students. With each successive book we will be developing an associated curriculum to help educators teach children about other important social and emotional skills. These skills are key to kids' development and also provide the foundation for academic achievement.

RT: As a dog girl, myself, I would never have guessed that cats are the most popular pet in the world. I have to ask … do you have a cat? what is its name? and does it bear a resemblance (in character or physical traits) to any kitty in the book?

Peter: I do have a cat! His name is Duke, and he’s a unique breed called a Toyger, which was the result of breeding domestic shorthaired tabby to resemble a "toy tiger," as its striped coat is reminiscent of the tiger's. The breed's creator has stated that the breed was developed in order to inspire people to care about the conservation of tigers in the wild. But I didn’t know all those facts before I got Duke. He was the partial inspiration for the character, Dylan, in the book. It’s funny that the inspiration for Dylan was a mix of Duke, my nephew Dylan, and me — all combined into one character.

RT: Along a similar line, is there a Kitty in the book whom you would most like to have as a friend? Who and why?
: This is a very difficult question because I love all the characters. There are qualities in each that I can identify with. either now as an adult or when I was a child. All the characters are parts of me in some form. So I must plead the fifth in this case!

I really would like to be friends with all of them because they all have interesting personalities, and I can see hanging out with each of them in different situations that would bring fullness to my life, if I were a cat!

RT: I thought you might say that! Thanks for stopping by the Reading Tub, Peter! It was great to meet you and the cats.
: Thanks for having me. It has been purr-fectly delightful.


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