In anticipation of National Feral Cat Day on October 16, 2023, #SeasonsOfKidlit is pleased to share this important book which introduces the Trap Neuter Release program for stray cats in a kid-friendly way.
Ethan and the Strays by John Sullivan
Art by Hatem Aly
QUESTION: Please share a little about yourself and your journey.
ANSWER: I earned a degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago. I live with five cats in Chicago, where I worked as a warehouseman, mail handler, laborer, and night watchman.
When I babysat my four nieces, I read them picture books. I felt I could write a better story than some I had read, so I began submitting manuscripts. Thirty years later, Paula Wiseman Books published my first book.
My debut picture book, Kitten and the Night Watchman (Simon & Schuster, 2018), won the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Margaret Wise Brown Prize. My second book, Stanley's Secret (Simon & Schuster, 2023), earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. My third book, Ethan and the Strays (Simon & Schuster, 2023), is forthcoming, as is Pet Parade (Simon & Schuster, tbd).
QUESTION: What inspired this story? Is it inspired by an actual experience? How much of that experience is represented in the story?
ANSWER: I’ve had pet cats all my life. As a night watchman for 29 years, my best friends were stray and feral cats. I fed them daily, took some in as pets, domesticated some for adoption, and helped trap, neuter, and return several dozen others. This story depicts the experience of falling in love with cats, learning about their needs, and helping them survive.
QUESTION: What made you decide to tackle this difficult, but also important topic?
ANSWER: The overpopulation of homeless cats is a worldwide problem. They live short, hazardous lives on the street, and overcrowded shelters euthanize millions of them yearly. One of the best ways to help homeless cats is to have them spayed or neutered. Neutering precludes the hardships of mating and motherhood and reduces aggression, roaming, diseases, and injuries.
However, I didn't write the book as a trap-neuter-return handbook. I wrote it to tell an entertaining, educational story depicting the relationship between two brothers and three stray kittens.
QUESTION: This is your second book that features a cat. What do you love about cats? Do you currently have any cats? What are their names? Are any of the cats in the story inspired by them?
ANSWER: Cats are entrancing and graceful. They're gentle and rapacious, attentive and independent, athletic and indolent. They're companions, comforters, comedians, and commitments.
I’ve lived with cats since early childhood. I remember, in order, Kitty, Keetzo, Mitzy, Sam, Tiger, Doc, Boo-Boo, Beebe, Misty, Wendy, and Sticker. I live with Valentine, Mama Cat, Fluffy, Tuffy, and Buffy.
Cats exhibit an innocence and vulnerability that compel us to care for them. Skittish to various degrees, the cats in the story resemble those I’ve known.
QUESTION: What insights would you like to share at this stage in your career?
ANSWER: Publishing does not bring happiness. If you're miserable before publishing, you'll be miserable after. I cringe at the label "award-winning author.” I have average talent and try extra hard.
I couldn't have succeeded without the support and encouragement of outstanding SCBWI members: Esther Hershenhorn, Heidi Bee Roemer, Carol Brendler, Nancy Raines Day, Lauren Kerstein, Sylvie Frank, and Paula Wiseman.
Without the guidance of Lynne Marie, I might have left the field years ago and become a sandwich board man for sushi in Oxnard.
BONUS QUESTION: What should a child do if they encounter a stray or feral cat?
ANSWER: A child should get an adult to help them identify and manage the cat. The adult may need to contact authorities for advice or assistance.
If it’s a neutered feral (cannot be domesticated) cat, leave it alone. If it’s an unneutered feral cat, contact a trap-neuter-return service.
If it’s an unneutered stray (can be domesticated) cat, have it vaccinated and neutered. Then, find it a home or take it to a no-kill adoption center.
If it’s a lost pet cat, try to find its owner. A vet will scan it for a microchip. Check for missing cats reported at animal care centers and on websites like lostmykitty.com. Announce that you found a friendly cat and post its photograph. If you can’t find its owner, have it vaccinated and neutered. Then, find it a home or take it to a no-kill adoption center.
If it’s a kitten under eight weeks old, leave it with its mother. If it’s a kitten over eight weeks old, have it vaccinated and neutered. Then, find it a home or take it to a no-kill adoption center.
If it's among a group of homeless cats, call a trap-neuter-return service.
If it's a sick or injured cat, call Animal Care and Control.
JOHN'S TREAT: A copy of Ethan and the Strays. Feel free to check out this and his other books at www.johnsullivankidbooks.com.
To be in the drawing for this prize, share this post on social media with the tags #SeasonsOfKidLit and tag me as well.
Drawing to be held on November 1, 2023 and posted on Twitter.