Wisdom of Richard Peck ~ Writing for young readers


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Richard Peck was an influential voice for me when I started writing for young readers, and with good reason. A Long Way From Chicago, coverHe was a National Book Award finalist TWICE, as well as claiming the Newbery Honor (A Long Way From Chicago) and Newbery Medal (A Year Down Yonder). Richard Peck was nothing short of a master and commander in the art of writing for young readers.

Before becoming an author, Richard Peck was a teacher. His classrooms were filled with the young audience he’d later write for. He admitted that, “Junior-high teaching made a writer out of me.” Peck may have left teaching, but he never stopped sharing his wisdom.

I was fortunate to have heard Richard Peck speak at a couple of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conferences. SCBWI even recorded a video Masterclass with Richard Peck on writing the novel for young readers too, that you can purchase for a reasonable price.

A Year Down Yonder, coverRichard Peck shared his wisdom on craft  through essays, as well. The essay he wrote on importance of beginnings—October/November 2006, Horn Book Magazine sparked a writing epiphany for me. In it he said, “The most important secret of writing . . . you are only as good as your opening line.

At first I thought that was kind of harsh, so I did extensive research. I went to bookstores and libraries, reading ONLY first lines of books. As it turned out, he was right! The books with great first lines I took home and read.

Don’t confuse a great opening line with over-the-top drama, though. A great opening line shouldn’t be about shock-value. When done right, it sets the tone of the story, reveals character, conflict, and theme. It’s the promise of the premise…distilled into one line. Richard Peck would revise his first chapter 24 times (or more), well after he’d completed the manuscript, to make sure it was right.

A Season of Gifts, cover

Short stories comprised Richard Peck’s first published works, covering the gamut of comedy, tragedy, historical, and contemporary. In fact, his short story “Shotgun Chentham’s Last Night Above Ground” was the inspiration for his Living in Chicago series: A Long Way From Chicago, A Year Down Yonder, and A Season of Gifts.

Peck’s collection of short stories, Past Perfect, Present Tense includes insights and advice for aspiring writers, along with some of his own notes. In the introduction, Peck reminds us that “fiction isn’t real life with the names changed. It’s an alternate reality to reflect the reader’s own world.” He also warns burgeoning writers that “a short story isn’t easier than a novel.” In truth, short stories require a type of samurai self-editing that is not for the weak of pen or faint of heart.

Writing lessons learned from Richard Peck

  • Before you write a single word, know your audience. Who will want to read the story you have to write?
  • A story isn’t what is. It’s what if?
  • Fiction is never an answer, always a question.
  • A story, of any length, is about change. The characters can’t be the same in the last paragraph as they are in the first. If there’s no change, there’s no story.
  • The essence of the entire story should be encapsulated on the first page.
  • The first chapter is the last chapter in disguise.
  • The story’s beginning should answer each of the following questions with a satisfied “Yes”: Does it intrigue? Does it invite? Does it work?
  • Strong, colorful characters win over readers, like the quirky, audacious, and warm-hearted Grandma Dowdel in a Long Way From Chicago.
  • An outrageous comic outhouse calamity is often the reason a story is recommended, word-of-mouth over and over again. Memorable scenes create loyal audiences and inspire lifetime readers.

Serving fish milkshakes to elephant seals at The Marine Mammal Center


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

elephant seal headshotLike many, I’ve paid my dues as a waitress. I have to say that of all my customers, the ones I loved serving were the elephant seal pups at The Marine Mammal Center.

In the early 1990’s, I spent a year volunteering at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) in Sausalito, California. Being a part of an organization that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals (of all kinds), then releases them back into the wild, was nothing short of life changing.

I was a member of the Sunday night crew responsible for animal care. Each Sunday night we fed and treated a wide range of marine mammals. My favorite were the doe-eyed elephant seal pups. (Yes, I still have our squad sweatshirt!)

Marine Mammal Center Sunday Crew sweatshirt logo

The elephant seal pups in our care had been separated from their mothers, and as a result were undernourished. Our job was to get them healthy enough to release back into the ocean. That meant they had to gain weight. A lot of it.

What do you feed an elephant seal so it packs on the pounds…but is also nutritious and tasty? You might be sorry you asked. I can’t reveal the “secret-recipe“, but it involves whipping together (literally) frozen fish, heavy cream, and a mix of nutritional supplements. A delectable milkshake! Kind of (?) gross, but it works!

The Marine Mammal Center elephant seal

The pups needed to be fed every 3 or 4 hours, and some nights during the El Nino year we had 200 elephant seal pups to feed. This required multi-gallon batches of fish-mash (secret fish milkshake), and three people to tube-feed a single elephant seal pup. One to straddle and restrain the 100+ pound pup, another to guide the tube down its throat and into the abdomen (not the lungs!), and a third to pour the fish mash into a funnel and work it down the tube. *Current pictures and videos show they’ve streamlined the tube feeding procedure so it only requires two people.*

There were some long nights, but it didn’t faze us. I loved the direct Tube feeding an elephant seal pupcontact that came with restraining the elephant seal pups for tube feeding. When I was in a place of calm, the pup responded with trust. Experiencing that type of connection with a wild animal is everything.

You can visit The Marine Mammal Center and see the amazing work they do up close. The center is just North of San Francisco in the Marin Headlands. Check the web site for visiting hours. (PC: The Marine Mammal Center, except the photo of the sweatshirt which I took myself)

The Marine Mammal Center
2000 Bunker Road | Fort Cronkhite | Sausalito, CA 94965-2619

What’s on the menu at The Marine Mammal Center?


Girls with Game…how they changed baseball…& the world


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Girls today are encouraged to participate in almost any sport. It wasn’t that long ago when that was far from true. At the turn of the 20th century, girls were discouraged from having careers outside the home. So you know their playing professional sports was frowned upon. Remarkably, in the early 1900’s two girls in Philadelphia made their mark in professional sports, changing baseball…and the world: Edith Houghton and Effa Manley.

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton

By Audrey Vernick, Illustrated by Steven Salerno

The Kid From Diamond Street coverEdith Houghton was born in Philadelphia in 1912, and she always said she must’ve been “born with a baseball in my hand.” Which may have been true.

Edith was playing baseball at the age of 3, and by the time she was 6 she was magic on the field. At age 10, Edith heard about the Philadelphia Bobbies, an all-female baseball team, she tried out, and was so good she made the team.

The Bobbies were named for the bobbed haircuts the team sported. Edith was by far the youngest and smallest member of the team, and soon got the nickname The Kid. Because the Bobbies were one of the only female teams, they played against men’s teams all over the country.

The Bobbies were such a sensation, they were invited to tour Japan and play against the men’s teams there. It was quite an adventure. Vernick highlights the girls’ personalities during their travels, weaving playful scenes through the narrative of their spirited fun, enriched by Salerno’s lush illustrations.

In so many ways, the Bobbies were goodwill ambassadors for the United States and the equality of women. Later in life, Edith continued to break new ground for women in sports by becoming the first woman scout for a professional baseball team.

In May, 2006, Edith’s love for baseball was immortalized in the Diamond Dreams Exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

An engaging story that reminds readers that baseball isn’t just numbers and statistics, men and boys. Baseball is also ten-year-old girls, marching across a city to try out for a team intended for players twice their age. –Horn Book


She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story

By Audrey Vernick, Illustrated by Don Tate

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story coverEffa Manely loved baseball. She played sandlot ball with her bothers as a young girl in Philadelphia in the early 1900’s. Sadly, this sparked racial prejudice because her bothers had darker skin like their father, and she had the light skin of her mother.

Effa loved watching baseball as much as playing it. So it was perfect that she met her husband at Yankee Stadium. Together they organized labor protests in Harlem and founded the Negro League team, the Newark Eagles.

Even after becoming a team owner, Manley sat in the stands “where the seats vibrated from foot-stomping excitement.” When the score was close, she’d get so excited that she’d have to peak between her white-gloved fingers, as delightfully portrayed in Don Tate’s rich illustration.She loved baseball

From her groundbreaking role as business manager and co-owner of the Newark Eagles, Effa Manley always fought for what was right.

She fought for fair salaries when some of her Eagles players moved to newly integrated major-league teams. In later years, she lobbied for her players’ recognition in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Then in 2006, Manley became the first woman to ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Manley was a trail blazer, fighting racial injustice throughout her life, and clearing a path for women’s equality a male-dominated field.

Story ~ Organic symbolism & the language of flowers and trees


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Symbolism deepens the emotional core of a story, enhancing the three-dimensionality of characters and their relationships. It’s pure magic when done well, but it’ll ooze like a didactic plague if not.

Spring flowers, bouquet

An elegant way to weave symbolism organically throughout a story is through the use of flowers, plants, and trees.

Say it with flowers

It may surprise you that flowers have secret meanings. From Victorian times, and earlier in the Middle East, flowers were used to convey messages due to social mores that dictated suppressed feelings. Society’s stringent rules created a secret language of courtship, love, and friendship through the use of flowers.

For example, daffodils represent new beginnings, lily of the valley imply a return of happiness, bluebells stand for constancy and everlasting love, and tulips (especially red tulips) symbolize perfect love.

Evermore, coverThrough the secret language of flowers, you can layer added depth to a character’s feelings and intentions. But be aware that the colors of certain flowers carry their own significance.

Take tulips, for example, red tulips are associated with true love, while purple symbolize royalty, and white tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness.

Alyson Noel used red tulips to portray the quality of the love between the characters in Evermore: The Immortals series.

There are numerous resources for the hidden meaning of flowers. I’ve offered links to a couple of botanical codices below, and there are any number of web sites dedicated to the language of flowers.

Tell it with trees and plants

Tree and plant symbolism was woven through Egyptian and Celtic cultures, and is still influences us Wishtree, covertoday. If flower symbolism doesn’t work for the characters and theme of your story, trees and plants may be an option.

The maple tree is a symbol of strength and endurance. While the willow tree represents mystical powers and a spiritual alignment with the moon, because it thrives near water.

Katherine Applegate used a red oak as the main character in her middle grade novel, Wishtree. An appropriate choice, since the oak is a symbol of wisdom. To the ancient Celts, the oak also represented durability, purity, and constancy.

Stacey Lee weaves an expertly rich tapestry of botanical symbolism throughout her evocative coming-of-age novel, The Secret of a Heart Note. Mimosa is one of the two remaining aroma-experts (aromateurs), and she uses her mystical sense of smell to help others fall in love—while protecting her own heart at all costs.

At once, hopeful, funny, and romantic, Lee’s lyrical language brings the characters and plants to life. You might even catch a hint of the poetically rich aromas as they find their way off the pages and into your heart.

Botanical codices

red tulips

The Heart of Fiction <3 Learning compassion through reading


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You step into the shoes of the characters when you read a story, and see the world through their eyes, live their experiences, and feel what they feel. Through this process your world expands, as does your sensitivity to others. Being able to understand what another is going through and sympathizing with their situation is a direct result of reading fiction. It is the heart of compassion.

Book with pages folded into a heart

Embracing the heart of fiction

A New York Times article, “Your Brain on Fiction”, by Annie Murphy Paul, brought to light studies that prove reading fiction helps us to make sense of the world, teaching us how to cope in positive ways. In this way, empathy and compassion are learned through fiction.

The titles I’ve highlighted below are just a few of the shining examples in children’s literature that embody acceptance, compassion, and empathy. You can ask for a more extensive list at your local library or indie bookstore.

The Big Umbrella

Amy June Bates cowrote this heartwarming story of acceptance and inclusion with her The Big Umbrella, coverdaughter, Juniper, while they were walking to school in the rain. Later, she enhanced their story with her lush illustrations.

By the door there is an umbrella. It is big. It is so big that when it starts to rain there is room for everyone underneath. It doesn’t matter if you are tall. Or plaid. Or hairy. It doesn’t matter how many legs you have. Don’t worry that there won’t be enough room under the umbrella. Because there will always be room. (Synopsis)

“A subtle, deceptively simple book about inclusion, hospitality, and welcoming the ‘other.’” —Kirkus Reviews

Each Kindness

Jaqueline Woodson (author) and E.B. Lewis (illustrator) demonstrate how each kindness Each Kindness, covermakes the world a better place, in this bittersweet story that resonates with all ages. Each Kindness won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award and Jane Addams Peace Award. Jaqueline Woodson is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her friends, they reject her. Eventually Maya stops coming to school. When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya. (Synopsis)

“Combining realism with shimmering impressionistic washes of color, Lewis turns readers into witnesses as kindness hangs in the balance. . . . Woodson . . . again brings an unsparing lyricism to a difficult topic.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review


Katherine Applegate penned this endearing story of kindness, friendship, and hope Wishtree, coveras a balm for the wave of hate that has spread across our nation in recent years. Wishtree is a fable about a tree named Red, who brings a neighborhood together in compassion and inclusion—with the help of the other woodland residents—when it’s threatened to be torn apart by hate.

Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”―people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood. You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experience as a wishtree is more important than ever. (Synopsis)

The lyrical trailer below showcases the deep and tender warmth of the story, combined with the innocence and beauty of Charles Santoso‘s illustrations.

“Never lose hope. Wishes have a way of coming true.”

From the Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan.

Literary Lepus ~ Rascally rabbits & their hare raising tales


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bunnies are synonymous with new beginnings. They symbolize the start of Spring, and heralded the beginning of children’s literature as we know it today. A rascally rabbit named Peter was responsible for opening the door for the children’s book market, at the hand of Beatrix Potter.

The misadventures of rascally rabbits enthrall young readers just as much today as they did in Beatrix Potter’s time, as is proved by just a few of the current popular children’s book titles mentioned below.

Beatrix Potter’s rascally rabbit

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) was a trailblazer for children’s literature, women, and the environment. Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (published by Frederick Warne in 1902) established the genre of fiction for young readers. As if that wasn’t enough, she pulled off this groundbreaking achievement in the late 19th century, when it wasn’t proper for women to work, especially in a professional field. Miss Potter (the 2006 film) provides endearing insights into the whimsical imagination of Beatrix Potter and the societal pressures of her times. It is delightfully inspiring. You can watch the trailer for the film below.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, coverBorn in Kensington, London, Beatrix later moved to Hill Top Farm in Cumbria. A biologist and naturalist at heart, she bequeathed her beloved far, along with 13 other farms and over 4000 acres of land, to the National Trust on her death.

Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated 28 books that have been translated into more than 35 languages and sold over 100 million copies. The Tale of Peter Rabbit is still Potter’s most popular and well-loved tale. It’s the story of a mischievous rabbit and the ensuing trouble he finds in Mr McGregor’s vegetable garden!

The Black Rabbit

Rabbit has a problem. He’s got a creepy companion he just can’t shake.cover art

There’s a large black rabbit chasing him.

No matter where he runs—behind a tree or over the river—the shadowy rabbit follows.

Finally in the deep, dark wood, Rabbit loses his nemesis—only to encounter a real foe!

Kids who love to be in on the secret will revel in this humorous look at shadows and friendship. (Synopsis)

Written and illustrated by Philippa Leathers, this charmingly adventurous tale will capture your heart.

WANTED! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar

cover artSome rabbits dream about lettuces and carrots, others dream of flowering meadows and juicy dandelions.

NOT Ralfy! He only dreams of books.

In fact, he doesn’t just dream about them, he wants to read them ALL THE TIME—even if it means he has to STEAL them. Soon his obsession sends him spiraling into a life of crime! (Synopsis)

Written and illustrated by Emily MacKenzie, this heisty hare will have you laughing out loud!

Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover

Meet the newest early-reader odd couple: fussy, compulsive Rabbit and overly logicalcover art Robot.

The hearty ridiculousness of a machine and animal hanging out together provides plenty of laughs as Rabbit tops his pie with carrots and lettuce, while Robot prefers bolts and screws.

Let’s not forget Rabbit telling Robot to turn down his Volume Knob anytime he yells, and the sight of Rabbit and Robot both wearing Rabbit-shaped pajamas, because Robot forgot his and had to borrow a pair. (Synopsis)

Written and illustrated Cece Bell, this delightful story of friendship is destined to be an all-time favorite.

Miss Potter ~ The inspirational life of Beatrix Potter

The whole truth about The Pentagon Papers: Most Dangerous + The Post


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Film and fiction bring their own strengths to storytelling. The secrets behind The Pentagon Papers requires both to fully understand the people and events that shaped this turning point in American history and culture.

Most Dangerous, by Steve Sheinkin, reveals the how and why The Pentagon Papers were stolen and released to the press by Daniel Ellsberg. The Post (starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep), is the story of the Washington Post’s role in exposing the lies behind the Vietnam war to the American public.

Most Dangerous, by Steve Sheinkin

Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

Most Dangerous, coverDaniel Ellsberg was the obscure government analyst who became “the most dangerous man in America” by risking everything to expose decades of government deception and lies.

The Pentagon Papers—the top-secret history of the Vietnam war—had been kept under lock and key for over a decade, with only the highest ranking government officials aware of their existence. On June 13, 1971, the New York Times blew open the government’s tightly kept secret, exposing The Pentagon Papers to the American public and the world. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had documented the government’s actions in the Vietnam War, revealing lies that spanned four presidencies. Sheinkin’s page-turning narrative provides direct insight into the people and political events that brought Ellesberg—a self-proclaimed patriot—to commiting what many would call treason. Sheinkin interviewed Ellsberg and others who were involved in shining the light of truth on The Pentagon Papers. The result is a front row seat to what the New York Times deemed “the biggest story of the century”, as if you are experiencing it unfold in real-time. Thought provoking and emotionally stirring, Most Dangerous delves into the true meaning of patriotism, freedom, and integrity.

Sheinkin’s insightful investigation of The Pentagon Papers was the 2015 National Book Award finalist and winner of the 2016 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award.

The Post

The Post, in comparison, focuses on the unprecedented battle between the press and the The Post, movie postergovernment regarding the right print The Pentagon Papers. Katharine Graham, the country’s first female newspaper publisher and her hard-driving editor Ben Bradlee were the force behind bringing the truth behind the Vietnam war to the American people.

The Washington Post’s legal team advised Graham against publishing the stolen documents, as Nixon would surely slam them with criminal charges. If they lost the legal battle, Graham risked destroying the newspaper that was her family legacy. If they won, she’d the Post would become a national journalistic institution. She was a fighter. She ran the story.

The White House retaliated with full force, and the Post and Times went before the Supreme Court to plead their First Amendment stance. Newspapers across the country rallied the story in solidarity, and the court ruled in favor of the newspaper and the people’s right to know.

Meryl Streep’s performance provides a movingly nuanced reflection of the societal inequality professional women of the time faced. For this reason, The Post is as much a statement about the turning tides of equality as it is about freedom of the press and the American people’s right to know.

NASA cats are a thing!


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cats have sailed the seven seas (like Hemingway’s polydactyl cats), managed libraries (Dewey and Max the library cat), and supervised the United States Postal System (USPS). So why not NASA? There are theories that cats came from outer space. Which seems highly unlikely, if only for lack of kitty treats. But with cats, nothing is ever what’s likely.

NASA cats logo

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the executive branch of the United States federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

And…they have cats!  Why am I surprised?

The CATS space program

NASA created a Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) that launched in 2014. CATS is a remote sensing instrument to provide range-resolved profile measurements of atmospheric aerosols and clouds from the International Space Station (ISS). In simple English, it’s technology that interprets (and helps us predict) the weather.

Does anyone else smell something fishy about all this? The CATS program could quite possibly be the brain child of ingenious interstellar felines. After all, cats are extremely finicky about exposure to rain, sleet, and snow!


Here’s the official NASA CATS brochure. Though, it might have been humanized, so we won’t realize just how in control felines are of NASA…and the world.

The REAL NASA cats & the Ames Cat Network

There are plenty of real cats roaming the grounds of NASA, at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. Sadly, many were abandoned without even being fixed. Left to reproduce uncontrolled, the cat population boomed.

The kind folks at NASA partnered with the Palo Alto Humane Society to trap, spay and neuter, and find homes for these cats in need. The Ames Cat Network was created, and each cat is tested, altered, and inoculated before being offered for adoption.

If you or someone you know in the San Francisco area is interested in fostering or adopting a NASA cat, please contact the Palo Alto Humane Society at 650.424.1901.

Other organizations in the San Francisco Bay area that help homeless animals, and have many wonderful pets available for adoption:

Creativity kickstart for writers ~ 5 super fun steps!


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

January is International Creativity Month, a great time to remember where the magic happens in the creative process. If we’re honest, there’s two drastically different sides to writing fiction:

  • OC (obsessive compulsive)—the linear, orderly mindset required for tracking the details that make a novel rich and believable
  • Happy place—where stories start and creativity takes flight

Imaginative rocket made of school supplies

Getting lost in the necessary details

We have to think linearly, assess the plausible, and be orderly and organized in execution to write good fiction. As Mark Twain so adeptly explained, “Fiction, after all, has to make sense.”

Writing a novel requires tracking story structure, character traits and arcs, setting and world building details. And maybe more! JK Rowling created an overall spreadsheet for the Harry Potter series, as well as spreadsheets for each individual book. The following image is of Rowling’s hand drawn spreadsheet for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

JK Rowling's outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Rowling’s grid outlines the chapter, month, chapter title, with an explanation of how that chapter relates to the over-arching plot of the book. There are columns for each of the book’s six subplots (prophecies, Harry’s romantic interests, Dumbledore’s Army, Order of the Phoenix, Snape and crew, and Hagrid) as well.

Remembering all the necessary details across hundreds of pages can bog down the heartiest of writers, especially when under deadline. Luckily, there’s a cure!

Creative rejuvenation

Creativity is innate to everyone. Much of what is perceived as “writer’s block” is temporary amnesia, we’ve forgotten the pure joy of having fun. When your creative fuel tank sputters on empty, try the following steps to blast your creativity into orbit:

  1. Do something silly, like running up the Down escalator, jumping on the bed, or having a food fight. Breaking up your routine with something random and unexpected, opens a creative doorway.
  2. Make a creative mess. A BIG one! Nothing breaks the bonds of orderly stuckness quicker than doing something that’s the total opposite.
  3. Skip. Everywhere. For an entire day! We stop skipping around the age of 10 or 12, but no one knows why. Scientifically that is. I think it’s because that’s the age we start forgetting how to naturally have fun. Skipping for an entire day will force you to remember what it was like to be naturally happy. Instant creativity is the result.
  4. Do something your 12 year-old self loved to do. For me it was rollerblading, but do whatever made you happy at that age. Again, it’s about tricking yourself into remembering what it’s like to be naturally happy. Then, the creative faucet turns on with firehose force.
  5. Give yourself permission to do NOTHING for an entire day. This is harder than it sounds. In our overachiever society, we’ve forgotten how to slow down and live in the moment. For more about this creativity enhancing practice, check out The Art of Doing Nothing, by Veronique Vienne.

Tranquil spa setting

Undercover Cats: The TRUTH about Disneyland’s Secret Cast Members


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The cats are out of the bag. And to think it happened in Fantasyland… There’s more to their covert kitty fluff than gratuitous sass and snark, though. Disneyland cats are working cats-members that provide a valuable function in the Happiest Place on Earth.

Covert Kitties Turned Social Media Mavens

Several years ago Taylor Roberts, a freelance writer, glimpsed a cat darting across a path in Fantasyland and snapped a picture.

That night he started the Cats of Disneyland Twitter account with tweets voiced by the witty cats. A web site soon followed: Cats of Disneyland.

With Roberts’ dry humor combined with photos of the covert cats, Disneyland’s secret cats-members skyrocketed to social media stardom. Articles about Disneyland cats were featured in the Los Angeles Times and KTLA. Blog posts were written about them, like my 2015 post, The Cats Behind the Mouse. (Giovanni, Disneyland California Adventure, PC:Elizabeth Fais)

NOTE: Taylor Roberts started the Disneyland Cats accounts on Twitter and Instagram, but it now appears those accounts were taken over by someone else. It’s not uncommon for popular accounts to be purchased and transferred to new owners.

In a theme park inspired by the world’s most famous mouse, it’s the cats of Disneyland who have the run of the place. —Los Angeles Times

As Becky so proudly flaunts, atop the roof of the Mexican eatery in Frontierland, Rancho del Zocalo (PC:Elizabeth Fais).

Becky, Disneyland Cat
All the media hype continued to keep the cats’ indisputable value to the daily operation of the Park a secret, though.

Cats-members with a Cause

Disney parks pride themselves in cleanliness. So it’s a little embarrassing that cats are necessary for the Disney “Mouse” squeaky clean image. In truth, the cats play an important role in keeping rats and other vermin out of the Park.

Disneyland’s cats have been behind-the-scenes cast members since the Park opened in 1955, infiltrating the grounds from the surrounding orange groves of the time.

The cats at Disneyland are feral, which means they are happy living and hunting outdoors, and prefer to stay away from people.

I became interested in the cat population at Disneyland, because of the work I do with feral cats in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve made several trips to Disneyland to research the cats. On one trip, I talked with the manager of the feral cat program and here’s what I learned:

  • Approximately 200 cats live at the Disneyland Resort, including Disneyland California Adventure, the Disneyland Hotel, and the Grand Californian Hotel.
  • The cats have been trapped, spay or neutered, and then released (TNR) back into the park. This is the proven, humane method for managing feral cat populations. For more information, read about Stanford campus’ Feline Friends Network.
  • There are feeding stations for the cats “back stage” to supplement their diet and keep them healthy.(PCs:Elizabeth Fais, Ned, at the Disneyland Hotel)
  • They’ve implemented an ingenious flea management program that is low-stress for the cats and highly effective.
  • The cats are given medical care and attention, as needed. This ensures healthy, long lives for each of the cats.
  • When a cat becomes too friendly with Park guests, they are given a home with a devoted Park employee.
  • Feeding and petting the cats is discouraged at all times. Disneyland cats are wild animals, and must be treated with respect and caution.
  • The best times to get a glimpse the cats are early in the morning (early admission, if possible), or around sunset. Feral cats are nocturnal, and usually sleep out of sight during the day.
  • Ask cast members for tips on where the cats hang out. The evening crew seemed to know the most when I asked, as that’s when the cats are most active.

Disneyland Cats: Unsung Heroes!

Something must be done…I mean sung! The “underdog story” is popular in the Disney Classics library.Francisco, Disneyland Cat It’s time to break old boundaries and blaze new trails. We need an “undercat story” accompanied with terrific songs. Of course!

Disneyland Cats
The Musical

Are you listening Andrew Lloyd Webber,
Pixar &
Disney Animation Studios?

Francisco’s already to auditioning!

(PC: Elizabeth Fais, Francisco, Disneyland California Adventure)