Mrs. Jensen’s first graders at Saddlewood Elementary School in Albany, NY read the NYSRA Charlotte Award nominated book That Cat Can’t Stay and had several questions for the author Thad Krasnesky. He graciously replied with answers, questions, and a poem for Mrs. Jensen’s class.
Why did you write a rhyming book?
When I was a kid, I always loved books by authors like Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, and Ogden Nash. I loved the rhythm of the words. There was a flow to it. It was like watching the waves of the ocean but hearing it with my ears instead of seeing it with my eyes. Reading those books when I was young really helped me learn about and appreciate poetry. I started writing poetry when I was little and just kept at it.
I always find that poetry helps you express difficult feelings. Some people think that saying something helps you get your feelings out but just saying it doesn’t make you think about it like writing it in a poem does. Poems make you think about different ways to say what you are feeling because there is form to a poem. The more you think about your feelings, the easier it is to understand what you are feeling.
I am not only a writer but I am also a soldier. Sometimes soldiers have a lot of feelings that are difficult to understand. Many soldiers write poetry to help them understand what they are feeling and thinking. I wrote a lot of poetry during the times that I have been at war. At one point, I felt like I was thinking too much about war and wanted to think about happier things so I started writing poetry for kids. Writing this book and others like it was kind of like taking a break in the middle of a really hard test.
Do you like poetry? If you wrote a book, what kind of book would you write?
How did you write a rhyming book?
Practice, practice, practice. I write poetry all the time so it starts to come to you naturally. I also rely very heavily on a thesaurus. Remember in the last answer when I told you that poetry helps you express feelings? Well, sometimes you want to use a word to say what you are feeling but the word you want to use doesn’t rhyme or fit where you want to put it. That means that you need to find another word that means the same thing but fits in the poem better. A thesaurus is a wonderful book that helps you find words that mean the same thing. Hopefully one of them will fit where you need to put it.
Do you like cats or dogs?
I like both cats and dogs. I also like penguins, alligators, polar bears, and dragons, but my wife says that I cannot have one of those.
What is your favorite animal? What type of animal would you choose as a pet? Where would you keep it and what would you feed it?
Are you allergic to cats?
Yes, I actually am allergic to cats. But we are always rescuing animals so I just learn to live with a stuffy nose.
Do you have a cat or a dog?
I have both. I have two cats and a dog. The cats are named Olivia and Breve and the dog’s name is Lola. Lola is a Chihuahua and has her own wardrobe.
Did you decide where to put the words on the page? (Especially in the repeated pattern pages) Did you have anything to do with choosing the curly print after the kitten page? Did you choose to go to a two page spread when you did the repeating phrase or did the illustrator?
Those are some very good questions. You guys are thinking. A lot of people think that writing a book is just about the words but there is a lot more to it. You have to pick the right style, size, and even color for the letters. You have to figure out what backgrounds look best. You have to figure out the right number of pages and how many words to put on each page and what pictures go with each set of words. It is pretty hard.
My editor did almost all of that. She is very smart and knows a lot about poetry and a lot about how to make books look good. She sent me copies of what it would look like before the book was printed and asked me if I liked it. I made a very few comments but mostly I just liked the way that she did it. I was just happy to see my words coming together in a book.
If you wrote a book, what would you want it to look like?
We noticed a pattern – mom brings home a cat, dad complains but lets him stay, and then there is a big bang ending. How did you plan this pattern?
Where did you get this idea?
Well, there are two reasons for this pattern. One, it is a good literary pattern. That means it can be a good way to tell a story. Sometimes when people start to see a pattern and they start to know what to expect, they feel like they can “see” into the book and feel like they are becoming more a part of it.
The second reason, that’s kind of the way things actually happened in real life.
At the end, why didn’t the mom say “the dog can’t stay”?
Oh my goodness! That would have been so funny! I didn’t even think of that! I think the mom is much more relaxed about stuff like that though. I can’t really picture her saying no to an animal.
What do you think? What would your mom say if you brought home a dog or a cat? Which of your parents would most likely say yes and which one would say no?
Did you work with the illustrator? What came first, the pictures or the words?
I did not work directly with the illustrator but I was so happy that he decided to do the pictures for the book. He is great! I can’t imagine the characters that I created looking anyway other than how he drew them.
In this case, the words came first. I wrote the book and my editor found the illustrator. He has been doing illustrations for a long time and is very good at it. Which do you think would be easier? Writing words to go with pictures or drawing pictures to go with words?
Why did you write this story? What happened that gave you the idea for this story? Did something like this really happen? Have you ever said, “that cat can’t stay” to your family?
Oh yes! Something just like this happened in real life. As I mentioned before, my family is always rescuing animals. (Cats and dogs, grackles, blue jays, a falcon, a squirrel, a hummingbird, a plover, turtles, snakes, a skunk, and recently a coyote, to name a few.) We work with wildlife rehabilitation centers to return the wild animals to the wild but many of the domestic ones wind up living in our house. The cats in the dedication of the book are the cats that are mentioned in the story. One showed up on my doorstep in a rainstorm, one was found in a parking lot, one had been hit by a car and was laying in the road, another was sent back to the shelter after its adoptive family couldn’t take care of it. I am always telling my family not to bring home anymore cats. My effectiveness in this endeavor is most accurately expressed in my most recent veterinary bill brought about by taking in and caring for yet another stray. What would you do if you found a stray? Do you know what to do if you find an injured wild animal?
Thanks for reading my book. I hope you enjoyed it.
Mrs. Jensen’s Class
Mrs. Jensen had a class who liked to ask her questions,
They asked at least a hundred every single classroom session,
They asked about Columbus and the U. S. Civil War,
They pleaded to be told just what an abacus is for,
They mused about philosophy, biology, and space,
They pondered all the wonders that perplex the human race,
But Mrs. Jensen didn’t have replies for all their questions,
So now she’s mostly left with upraised hands and indigestion.
Thad Krasnesky, January 2012