Allison's Book Bag

With our household of critters having expanded to include three cats and a dog, I thought it fitting to join a meme related to pets. After searching around, I came across Awww….. Mondays. The one rule is: “Post a picture that makes you say Awww…. and that’s it.” Every photo seemed to feature a pet and so the meme is a perfect fit!

Whrr! Whrr! Andy and I bought a Turbo Track Ball toy for Cinder when we first adopted her four years ago. Within a week, she bored of the toy. Twenty-five cent plastic balls she batted day and night. Fifty cent plush mice she threw left and right. Four-dollar wand toys she leaped over tables over. But the nine-dollar track toy sat collecting dust. And so, we decided to give it away.

Except then Bootsie came into our lives as a foster cat. The feral who came to us from the dirt and debris of the outdoors initially had no idea what to do with toys. Soon enough though she started to paw at a ball and then a mouse and finally a wand toy. One day while I worked in the living room, I heard an unfamiliar noise. I crept to the library and beheld Bootsie pawing at the once forgotten toy. She did this every day for weeks. Yes, weeks! And so, Andy and I decided to pass the Turbo Track Ball toy on with Bootsie when she eventually got adopted.

As everyone here knows, we decided not to keep Bootsie. Hence, the toy also stayed with us. Then lo and behold Bootsie then discovered pillows, windows, and television. She still treasured an oversized fluffy mouse. She still battled with a gangly octopus. But the nine-dollar track toy once again became a relic. Imagine that!

Except then Rainy came into our lives as a foster kitten. Within a month, two momentous events happened. First, Andy and I fostered-failed AGAIN. Second, Rainy discovered the Turbo Track Ball toy.

Shortly after these two events, Bootsie decided to check the toy back out, realized it had a scratch pad, and has used ever since to sharpen her claws. This led Cinder to check the toy out again too. Every now and then I hear the whirring of the track, look up, and see a tortie disappearing from the scene.

Fast forward two years, Andy and I won a super deluxe three-track ball toy. Both it and its simpler version reside in our living room, where they both receive almost daily attention from the cat trio. Might I suggest then that if you have a toy that’s languishing from lack of use, you simply add a few more cats to your household? 😉

Want to start your week off with a smile? Visit Comedy Plus or Burnt Food Dude and see what others are sharing today.

Audrey Penn takes her one-woman educational program, the Writing Penn, into schools, libraries, and children’s hospitals where she shapes and refines her story ideas in partnership with kids. She is also highly sought after as a conference keynote speaker by groups of teachers and other professionals who work with children.Audrey is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Kissing Hand (and other books in the Kissing Hand series). She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

ALLISON: Share a favorite (or not so favorite) childhood moment with siblings.

AUDREY: One day my older brother said that he intended to stay at the fraternity house overnight. I was then allowed to use the double beds in his room for a sleepover with my girlfriend. About midnight when my friend and I were asleep, my brother came home. He tiptoed upstairs not to disturb anyone in the family and literally dove into bed. He was midair when my girlfriend opened her eyes and let out a scream. My brother landed next to my friend who was now curled up in bed shrieking. I reached over and turned on the light and burst out laughing. In my book Chester the Brave, Chester jumps onto his brother while sleeping. The idea and illustration came from that night with my girlfriend and brother.

ALLISON: You’ve had quite the career! What was it like to dance professionally? What was it like to serve as a choreographer for the US Figure Skating Team? How did you land those careers?

AUDREY: I was very lucky and attended extremely good ballet schools that flowed over into companies. The feeling of being on my toes and responding to music and story line was absolutely joyous. Jazz dancing was a totally freeing experience. The hard work it took to dance was ninety percent of the job. While dancing, I had a teacher from Russia who taught alignment. I began seeing things in athletes that could be improved by alignment study. Somehow the experiences snowballed into a brilliant second career.

ALLISON: What inspired you to write your first book?

AUDREY: My first book, Happy Apple Told Me, came out of a fairytale I wrote as a Christmas gift for friends I had in theater. I took things from my childhood journals, and my experiences in the theater, and developed a story with a serious theme told in a fanciful way. A year later I received a call from a publisher telling me that they wanted to publish my book. I asked them “What book?” They said, “Happy Apple Told Me.” I have never found out who submitted it for publication.

ALLISON: Your favorite thing about writing is getting to work with kids. What is a discouraging part and how do you handle it?

AUDREY: Getting stuck. It’s not as much writer’s block as it is resolving some problem in the storyline. My most effective means of dealing with it to date has been to go take a shower. I am amazed at the clarity I get standing under hot water.

ALLISON: You’ve always enjoyed writing and have learned lessons along the way about what it takes to be an author. What advice would you give to teachers of writing?

AUDREY: Every teacher comes with his or her own experiences in writing and story telling. The hard part for most people is getting started. Some students can’t wait for that blank piece of paper to fill with their imagination or special interest. Other children are terrified of that blank sheet of paper. If they are having a really hard time, I have them draw a picture and then describe the picture.

It took many years to develop my writing program, The Writers Curve, for the younger children. One of the first lessons I teach is to know your ending. They wouldn’t leave their house before knowing where they were going; they wouldn’t call a friend without knowing what friend was at the opposite end of the phone. An arrow needs a target. A story needs an ending.

I want teachers to teach awareness. Tell the student to see, hear, smell, taste, touch life in order to tell about it in a story.

Teach the students to keep a journal recording the things they learn each day.

It is important to first just get the story down, then come back to it and add the details during the rewriting process. Do not interrupt the creative time for corrections in grammar, etc – it stops the process in its tracks. These corrections come LAST.

And no ‘wenting.’ He went, they went, I went. I can’t see anyone went. I can’t draw anyone wenting. Make writing visual and tactile.

And have fun.

ALLISON: Why do you like to write about raccoons?

AUDREY: I was in a park with my four-year-old son and we took a ride on a small train that took us through the forest. We were midway through the ride when the train stopped and the engineer left to get a park ranger. We all thought there was a deer lying across the tracks. I told my son to stay in the train while I got out for a better look. I was completely surprised to see it was a mother raccoon and her tiny cub. While I watched, the mother took the cub’s hand and nuzzled his tiny palm. The cub then put his palm on his cheek. The Kissing Hand is that story.

ALLISON: You have two dogs. What has been your greatest adventure with them?

AUDREY: Sadly, we lost our boxer, Charlie, last year. And our lab-mix, Koko, just had the dog equivalent of a double “knee replacement” last year. She is doing very well for an old dog. Koko never leaves my side. She is my constant shadow. She sleeps in our bed and wakes us when she’s having a dream that she’s protecting the house from those pesky deer. She runs in her sleep kicking me in the shins usually then falls blissfully back to sleep while I’m wide awake. Koko is my rock and helps me type by walking on my computer keys.

ALLISON: What book is next?

AUDREY: I am finishing up the fourth book in my YA mystery series, which began with Mystery at Blackbeard’s Cove. I should have this one, Blackbeard’s Legacy: Shared/Time, out by the 300-year anniversary of Blackbeard’s death, November 22, 2018. I am always developing several other stories at the same time, but it’s too soon to talk about anything else as yet.



Marie Letourneau is a full-time illustrator and graphic artist, with a BA in Fine Arts from Hofstra University’s New College on Long Island. She has done design work for (and appeared on) The Nate Berkus Show, and The Revolution with fashion icon Tim Gunn. In 2014, Marie was a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards for her stationery shop Le French Circus, on Etsy. She loves animals, beets, and roller skating. Marie is the author and illustrator for Argyle Fox. She and her family live on Long Island, New York.

ALLISON: Your bio indicates that you made books as a child. Do you still have one, and if so, why, and please describe? Or do you remember one that you gave as a gift, and if so, why, and please describe?

MARIE: I think only one of my childhood books exist. My aunt has a book I made for her when I was about 11 or 12. I think it was about a forest-dwelling creature called a “Blump” (sort of a cross between a gnome and a hobbit) I don’t remember the storyline, but it was based off of a stuffed toy I won at an amusement park.

ALLISON: What other interests did you have a child?

MARIE:Art in general was my main interest. But I also loved roller skating (which served me later in life when I joined women’s roller derby!)

ALLISON: Share an unforgettable memory from adolescence.

MARIE: I was 13 and my sister, Michelle and I were at the beach. Suddenly a baby whale appeared and we swam out past the breakers to meet it. We went back every day for a week to ‘play’ with it.

ALLISON: Is there someone who helped you become an artist that you can tell us about, and how they influenced you?

MARIE: My parents and family always encouraged me to pursue art. I also had some great teachers in school – namely, Celeste Topazio (elementary school) and Don Bartsch (jr & sr high). I am so grateful to them both.

ALLISON: When did you also become an author, and why?

MARIE: I always liked to write stories. As a kid I was constantly creating comic strips, writing plays and making my own books. It wasn’t until 2002 that I seriously started thinking about submitting my work and pursuing a career as an illustrator.

ALLISON: What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

MARIE: Practice as much as you can. Work on developing a style, but be patient with yourself. These things take time.

ALLISON: You have two dogs and a cat. What has been your most fun adventure with them? Or what has been one of their fun solo adventures?

MARIE: Every day is an adventure. They are constantly getting into mischief of one kind or another. Like the time I found one of my dogs standing on our piano. I didn’t even know she played.

ALLISON: Please tell us more about your love of beach glass.

MARIE: There’s something about the colors and shapes that fascinate me–like little jewels. Knowing they have been in the ocean long enough to be shaped and smoothed, then suddenly ending up in my hand is extremely cool. I’m very particular about which pieces I take home. They need to have been well-worn by the ocean.

ALLISON: What’s something quirky about yourself?

MARIE: I like to collect old things. Old film projectors, dial-up telephones, typewriters, trunks, etc. I have a lot of my grandparents stuff, including a very heavy, metal (iron, I think) Art Deco table fan. It still works. My grandfather kept all of his things in immaculate working order.

ALLISON: What’s your next book and/or creative project?

MARIE: I’m in the process of brainstorming this one. I have a couple of ideas. I can’t really say exactly what it will be, but it may just involve an adventure at sea.



Sometimes an idea can revolutionize one’s world. My background is that of a dog person. When I began to train our current three cats, I initially drew on my experiences with dog obedience and agility. Then I read The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis. It inspired me to develop a whole new training mindset. I began to see training as being about more than teaching commands and tricks, engaging a cat’s mind and body, or even building a stronger bond. Those are all excellent outcomes, but training for me is now a matter of not taking my cats adaptability for granted; it’s a matter of parenting my cats to maximize their happiness indoors as part of my family.

I have an ongoing list of skills that I want to teach our cats and am tackling them one at a time. For example, perhaps because Cinder came from a shelter, she’s possessive of her food. By that I mean, she growls if anyone or thing goes near her food. One way I’ve tackled that problem is to give Cinder what she most needs: privacy when she eats. All three of our cats have separate dishes and eat in separate rooms. At the same time, I want to be able to place a dish in front of her and remove it without stressing her. I’d also like to be able to give treats to my cats without squabbles or stress. Cinder shouldn’t view treats and meals as a fight or flight situation. One way I’ve tried to tackle the problem is by teaching Cinder a couple basic obedience commands.” Cinder (and all our other pets) must sit before I give out food. I’ve also drawn on a command from the dog world called “Leave it.” In this scenario, I hold treats cupped in my hands and then order: “Leave it.” Cinder used to initially sniff and butt my hands. Only when she walked away or otherwise showed no interest do I let her have the treat. Although at times she needs reminders, Cinder has gotten much better at showing patience.

Perhaps because Bootsie is a former feral, she doesn’t like enclosed spaces. This posed a huge problem when it came to taking her to the vet. I would have to first lure her into our library and close the door and then I had to stress both of us by trying to scruff her to put her into a crate. The Trainable Cat contains an entire chapter dedicated to the topic of teaching a cat to accept a crate, and it’s one of the first training methods outlined in the book that I tried. Everything was about baby steps. First, my husband and I replaced our closed plastic crate with an open wire crate. Next, I placed treats next to the crate. My husband also bought a soft pet bed that fit perfectly in the new crate. Both served to entice Bootsie to view the crate as a positive instead of negative object. Over a span of days, I gradually moved her treats further into the crate, until she had to completely enter the crate to reach the treats. After that, I also began to put her food in it. The experiment was even more successful that I dreamed. Bootsie now feels so comfortable in the crate that she often sleeps in it or retreats to it when startled. But what would her attitude towards the crate change the first time I had to shut her inside it to bring her to the vet? I realized that I needed to train her to be comfortable with these things as well, and not wait until her first vet visit to expose her to being shut in her crate and transported in it. For that reason, I’d often close her inside and carry her in the crate to different places in the house I’d even take her to the car in her crate. Of course, I’d also reward her with treats throughout this conditioning. And it worked! After we took her to the vet to the first time, her attitude towards her crate didn’t change. She continued to view it as a place of comfort safety. I’m now using the same baby steps to teach Bootsie to get into and ride in a pet stroller. If one day you see me taking her around the neighborhood, you’ll know I succeeded!

I have no idea why Rainy doesn’t like loud noises, but her fear became a huge concern when we almost lost her this past July 4th when the sound of fireworks caused her to stop eating for three days. One way I have tackled the problem is to give Rainy what she most needs: soothing music to camouflage the fireworks and a pet-sized dosage of Benadryl to numb her anxiety. At the same time, I can’t predict when other noises might stress her. Case in point, this past fall I found Rainy hidden under the bed covers when our neighbor was having her roof reshingled. The problem was the nail gun used to secure the shingles. I can’t expect her to be okay with every loud noise, but I do want her to learn to ignore common sounds such as thunder, traffic, and the banging of the teeter totter when we do agility Andy helped me tackle the latter. He taught her the ‘bang game’, where the ‘up’ end of the teeter is held close to the ground, and a treat is held over it so that the pet has to step on the end of the teeter to get the treat. In other words, the pet is rewarded for making the teeter ‘bang’. Now Rainy barely flinches when the teeter hits the floor. But if Rainy is to embrace noises that I might not be around to protect her from, I need to generalize my training efforts. And so, I’ve been taking her to new places and arming myself with treats. Those of you who follow my agility series know that we’ve been making progress!

Someone I know once issued condemnation on those who view their pets as “kids”. Her reason? She felt such pet owners are the most likely to spoil them and let them misbehave. For me, the experience has been the opposite. The more I’ve come to view my relationship with our cats as that of a “parent,” the more I’ve realized the depth of pet owners’ responsibility to our animals. They used to live out in the wild, but we turned them into our companions, and as such they now depend on us to show them the best way to live contentedly in our homes and with our families. For me, it’s been all joy to invest in them as I would “kids,” because the bond that has developed through our training times is priceless.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

Agility Series

With almost 80 million households in the United States owning a pet as of 2015, it should come as no surprise that our calendar year is filled with holidays celebrating our animal companions. These holidays might be a little too obscure to grant anyone a day off from work, but they still might give ideas about how to have fun with or honor pets. Last year to help Lincoln Animal Ambassadors visitors keep track of those very special dates, I began posting information about them. Here are links to all of the events you might have missed in June.

National Hug Your Cat Day: Of unknown origin, and just behind us on the calendar, is National Hug Your Cat Day. Studies have shown that cuddling with cats can reduce stress and increase relaxation.

World Pet Memorial Day: Held each second Sunday in June, World Pet Memorial Day is a time to remember the pets that were once part of our lives and to celebrate the bond we held with them. Pets bring us many benefits: they can improve our mood, relieve our stress, and provide comfort in time of need. For many of us, pets become our family, and their loss leaves a forever hole in our hearts. If you’re struggling with grief, you’ll find resources at this link.

Take Your Pet to Work Day: Take Your Pet to Work Day was created “to show our love for our pets by taking them to work with us”. It also encourages adoptions from shelters and rescue groups. So far, no real surprise. What I didn’t know is that this calendar date was established by Pet Sitters International (PSI), the world’s largest educational association for professional pet sitters.

Missing from my roundup is: Pet Appreciation Week.

To read more, check out Pet Calendar Dates. There you’ll find details not only about the above, but about pet-related dates that fall throughout the rest of the year.

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee



Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals


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