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Posts Tagged ‘Nick Bruel

Bad Kitty School Daze is a hilarious graphic novel. Students will relate to the classroom setting, laugh at the antics of the outrageous characters, and maybe even learn a thing or two about cats and dogs from the informational Uncle Murray pages. Whether or not you have yet to discover Bad Kitty, this is an excellent title to check out.

One fine day, Bad Kitty and Puppy land themselves in trouble. Off to obedience school they are sent! This however isn’t like the school your local pet club might offer. Instead, just like human kids, Bad Kitty and Puppy ride a bus to school. They even wear backpacks. And they feel trepidation about the new teacher, who initially seems quite huge and frightening. All of these moments show how well Bruel understands the first day of school experience. Younger students especially will also relate to the obedience school routine, which doesn’t include learning to sit or stay or heel but instead involves going to Circle Time, Arts and Crafts, Show and Tell, and Story Time. One of the most poignant moments happens soon after the onset of school. As Miss Dee ushers everyone into their first class, she tells them that, “I believe you are all GOOD pets and I want you to know that.” Bad Kitty makes a face and Miss Dee adds, “Even you.” The look on Bad Kitty’s face is priceless.

After school activities get underway, personalities become clear. Bad Kitty continues to give attitude. Puppy in contrast displays the most sweetest face, while simultaneously drooling slobber. A militant rabbit insists on calling himself Dr. Lagomorph and interrupting every direction. An oversized bulldog rants about how much she HATES cats: their eyes, their noses, their goofy whiskers. She wants to punch them, bite their heads off, and chew their faces like gum. What saves the text from feeling overly violent is the creative variations Bruel makes of the typefaces. Oh, and it probably helps too that the bulldog’s name is Petunia. 🙂 One of the cutest scenes is where Petunia starts to scrutinize Bad Kitty, Bad Kitty makes the Moo sound of a cow, and Petunia hugs Bad Kitty as if she were a sister. Actually, pretty much every interaction between Petunia and Bad Kitty is hilarious and tender. Except for maybe the one where Petunia finally figures out Bad Kitty is a…. gulp…. cat!

Uncle Murry’s Fun Facts appear three times in the story. The first two-page spread explains why dogs chase cats. The second offers reasons for why dogs and cats don’t like each other. Pet owners, young and old, might find the information is fairly standard. It could also perhaps perpetuate stereotypes or the idea that dogs and cats will never be anything but eternal enemies. Uncle Murry saves himself with the third spread, which explores the question of whether dogs and cats can become friends. The answer is yes, they can, but only with patience. Uncle Murray then proceeds to provide step-by-step directions of how real pet owners might really create friendships between their dog and cat.

Bruel dedicated Bad Kitty School Daze to teachers. I wholeheartedly recommend the placement of the Bad Kitty books in every school library. And, as a teacher, I say thank you to Bruel for creating a series with such high appeal to reluctant readers, boy readers, and a host of other readers. Including me!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Once I have selected all of the Plum Creek Literacy Children’s Festival authors with whom I am familiar, I face the pleasure of picking which others I can squeeze in during the day. Nick Bruel is one  author attracted me, because of his Bad Kitty books. Myself being a cat lover since 2006, I seek out all things cat. His presentation topic, how to tell stories, also seemed potentially beneficial to me both as a teacher and as an author. What follows are the highlights of his talk, which includes two story-telling exercises.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABruel met a student who was distressed. Coming up with ideas for stories can be difficult. To help out, his teacher had assigned him to include a giraffe, a fence, and the action of running. The boy had no idea what to do with these elements.

The problem is the teacher had confused tools with parameters. Bruel talked to her about an idea of his that might work.

He does a lot of presentations. However, he is a writer who happens to draw, unlike illustrators who create art. To present, he must dig into his brain and figure out how he writes.

When it comes time for Bruel to write, it’s hard for him to come up with an idea. Really, it’s difficult for anyone to sit with a blank paper or in front of a screen and to start. The mind becomes a really big blank. So, Bruel likes to use jumpstart exercises.

First, he thinks of titles first. Take for example his book Boing! He thought about where would this sound come from, kept his mind open, and eventually the idea came along for a kangaroo book.

Bruel also likes names. Take for example the name Stanley Yelnats. It’s catchy, because the second name is backwards. Bruel began to wonder what adventures he might have, kept his mind open, and eventually an idea developed.

One day, he came up with the title of Bad Kitty. He liked it. Right away, he knew the cat would be bad. Living with cats, it was also easy brainstorm ideas. He started with foods his cats doesn’t like and began alphabetizing those foods.

While Bruel was contemplating Bad Kitty sequels, not even sure if he would write another one, his wife happened to be taking care of a neighbor’s son. She’d cradle him by saying, “Poor Puppy.” Bruel decided that would make a good title, he could be the puppy which had appeared in the first Bad Kitty book, and that he could be in the next kitty book.


After this lead-in, Bruel takes his audience of adults through an activity which he’s also used with students.

  • First, name an animal!
  • Second, name a feeling!

Now put those two together and…. You have  title! At the presentation, we came up with Mad Kitna.

The secret Bruel tells us to this activity is: Always Ask Questions!  What follows is a summary of the questions and answers that we came up at Bruel’s presentation.

Q. Where is Mad Kitna?

A. He is in a laboratory and experimenting with making a human being. The theory is no one wants him as a pet and so he can be this human being’s pet.

Q. What ingredients is Mad Kitna getting?

A. He steals a head from someone’s doll. She feels sad about the doll. He doesn’t care because he is a mad scientist.

Q. How does the girl find out?

A. The girl finds out because he takes it from her arms. The lab is in a treehouse.

Q. Is he able to create the human being?

A. No, the doll is plastic.

Q. What else can he do?

A. Maybe he tries to return the doll back to the girl.

Q. Why would he return the doll?

A. He realizes there’s more to the person than just a head. The girl is happy and now wants the Kitna to be a pet.

Q. What does the girl say?

A. She asks why did you take the head? The Kitna tells her that he wants a human. The two make a deal: I’ll give you more info about being a human if you’ll be my pet.

Q. How does the story end?

A. At bedtime, the girl tells a story to him. Kitna’s prickles aren’t out anymore. They fall back in on him as he falls asleep. He’s a pet!

At this point, Bruel retells the story. He emphasizes that WE made up all the details. The one thing he did was ASK questions. And this is the secret to writing stories. The more questions one asks, the more interesting a story will be.

For a variation on this activity, click on the LINK to open a Microsoft Word document.

As many authors seem to these days, Bruel also took time to comment on the education system. We have kids who go to school now and learn so much about testing that we’re raising kids who feel compelled only to find the right answer. They don’t answer questions anymore. But that is what’s at the heart of creativity. Asking questions is behind everything one does.


Time left to spare after the activity, Bruel answered questions from the audience. Most of those questions evolved around the writing process. What follows is a summary of Bruel’s answers.

Nick Bruel and Bad Kitty,

Nick Bruel and Bad Kitty,

He starts with an outline. This technique is best for older writers. An outline is a map. Bruel needs to know where he is going in the story, where he will start and end. He can’t just write. After that, he writes and draws. For him, illustrations tell the story as much as the words. With the Bad Kitty books, Bruel has to sketch because kitty doesn’t talk and so his artwork shows what she feels.

Bruel works at home in a fairly large messy office in a house which the family moved into about a year ago. They still haven’t even unpacked everything. There are papers everywhere. He needs a place without distractions. That means no TV or stereo in the background.

Now that he has the process streamlined, Bruel takes about six months to create a chapter book. Sketching is part of the writing process and can be laborious. The final art can take a couple of months. The only reason he doesn’t publish more often than once a year is because there are other projects. For example, Bad Kitty Makes Comics is coming out in spring! He was asked to create an activity book, but didn’t feel those added much to children’s lives, and so instead he wrote about comics.

While Bruel has tried to use a notebook, he has never been successful with the tool. Even in high school, he couldn’t retain the habit. He does keep little notations on my computer, essentially a list of titles. Bruel explains he is not an organized thinker. His papers are all over the place. He would lose a journal. His notebook is inside his head.

One answer intrigued me, which is the one about why is books are so popular with primary-school boys. Bruel acknowledged that he admires those who target boys, but said it isn’t a goal he has. He doesn’t even target his books to pets. 🙂 In fact, not targeting boys was a conscious choice. Having a wife and a  daughter, he knows boy grow up to rule. Bruel guessed maybe it is the humor. He tries to appeal to a broad populace. As a kid, he wasn’t the smartest or most athletic. Humor was his way of making friends. And that’s what he is still doing!

Preschool readers are also apparently sparked with curiosity by his books…. To do this observation, Bruel said that he is an advantage in that he writes and he draws. This means he decides where the art will be. He can place the big surprise on the subsequent pages. A person who writes novels doesn’t have that luck. But it works for Bruel’s books.

When asked about if he himself was a reader when young, Bruel answered in the affirmative. He went to private schools where there was lots of books. The genre which most appealed to him was comics, aka graphic novels today. He grew up being a good reader. After college, he worked in a bookstore and discovered that he like books for young people. Adult books are well written but have themes and layers that he doesn’t always understand. Young adult books are centered around characters and settings. A favorite adult novel is Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. This reminds Bruel how great writing is. It’s like going to a museum and seeing a beautiful painting and wanting to create it.

Bad Kitty didn’t start out bad. Somebody made her that way. And that somebody was…. Her Author!

Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble, cover blurb

Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble by Nick Bruel is a light-hearted writing guide for young people. It teaches the basics of story writing, amidst hilarious plot twists. Just as importantly, it reveals juicy tidbits about author Nick Bruel and stars the infamous Bad Kitty.

How does one write a story? First, you need a protagonist or the most important character in the story. Such as Bad Kitty. 🙂 Second, you need a setting or the place where your story takes place. Bruel considers telling this particular story of Bad Kitty in the middle of the ocean, but Bad Kitty does not take lightly to getting wet. Bruel switches the setting to an exotic jungle tale, forcing Bad Kitty to face the dangerous beast of prey—a lion. Bruel also suggests the frozen North and a spooky graveyard. Neither option appeals to Bad Kitty. So Bruel sticks with Bad Kitty’s home. If you were to write a fan fiction story about Bad Kitty, what setting would you use?

Third, you need to have conflict or a problem that the main character will face. To determine the conflict, you might ask questions like: What does your character like? What does your character NOT like? What makes your character happy? What makes your character angry? Bad Kitty is known to like food. In Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble, the obstacle is Bad Kitty needs to eat less food. In other words, she needs to diet. If you were to write a fan fiction story about Bad Kitty, what conflict would you use?

Fourth, you need an antagonist or the character who acts as the obstacle between the protagonist and her goal. Bruel considers introducing a friendly talking turnip named Terry. Bad Kitty does not have a nice response to this character. And so Bruel rethinks the idea. Instead he uses a character familiar to fans: Puppy! Bruer assigns Puppy to keep Bad Kitty away from food. If you were to write a fan fiction story about Bad Kitty, what antagonist would you use?

Fifth, you need plot points or a moment in which a story takes an unexpected turn. Some which happen in Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble include: Bad Kitty passing out when Puppy eats all her food; Bad Kitty needing to recover from shock; Bad Kitty being fed a steaming glass of turnip juice to speed up her recovery; Bad Kitty trying to run away; and Bad Kitty being stopped by an octopus. If you were to write a fan fiction story about Bad Kitty, what plot points would you use?

Sixth, you need an end, which could be open or closed. Bruer decides the conclusion should be that Bad Kitty loves turnips and eats them all the time. This idea turns out to be such a horrible one that Bruer finds himself needing to write an epilogue. If you were to write a fan fiction story about Bad Kitty, what end would you write?

You might think that by my providing the above steps to writing a story that now there’s no need to purchase your own copy of Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble. But then you’d miss out on learning about other story elements such as foreshadowing, plot, theme, and emotions. There are also other special features such as a chapter about how to draw Bad Kitty, advice from familiar character Uncle Murray, and a glossary of literary terms used. My students and I love it.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

NickBruelAuthor and illustrator of the Bad Kitty series and other best-selling books, Nick Bruel started out as a cartoonist. According to International Reading Association, He had some moderate success sending cartoons out to trade magazines and even managed to self-syndicate a weekly comic strip for two years. Although he never earned enough to support himself, he loved the work.

When Bruel gained employment in a small children’s bookstore in Manhattan, he discovered how much picture books and comics shared a similar language in the way text and illustrations work together to tell a story. Bruel had previously tried to publish children’s books and failed. While working in the Manhattan bookstore, Bruel became so saturated and educated in the picture book literary form that he tried again. This time it worked.

The idea for Bruel’s first Bad Kitty book came to Bruel much like all of his ideas, from the title. As for her personality, Bruel drew upon all of the different cats he has known throughout my life. He told Secret Files of Fair Day Morrow: “Cats are quite cool and aloof on the outside. But inside they are a neurotic mess. I can relate to that.”

The Bad Kitty books take between six and nine months to create. Bruel uses pencil, crow quill pen with waterproof ink, watercolor, and gouache paints for the illustrations.

Later in the week, I’ll share more about the creative device Bruel uses involving titles and review two of his other Bad Kitty books. Save the dates: October 29-31.


ALLISON: Who most influenced you growing up?

NICK: I’ve said this many times before, so I’ll say it here as well. I have two regrets in life–that my father never lived to see any of my books published, and that Shel Silverstein never lived to see any of my books published.

My father was a good guy and encouraged the radical lifestyle that I had been developing for myself as a cartoonist. He had a marvelous sense of humor that I definitely inherited.

Shelly, as I knew him, was a regular customer at a store where I worked, and he as well was a marvelous man. Oddly enough, I did not read his poetry collections as a child, but “The Giving Tree” was a book that both haunted and perplexed me in the most marvelous way when I was young. It still does today.

ALLISON: If you were to draw on an episode from your childhood to inspire a Bad Kitty story, what memory would you use?

NICK: I don’t know if there is a particular episode from my childhood that I can draw upon, but Bad Kitty herself is physically modeled after a cat we had when I was young named Zou-zou. She was actually the first cat I ever lived with, a stray that appeared in our back yard one day and decided to stay with us. She was small, even for a cat, and very feisty. And Zou-zou had the most marvelous design for a pussycat; she was black all over, blacker than midnight, all except for this single, elegant tuft of white fur on her upper chest. When I first contemplated what I wanted Bad Kitty to look like, I immediately thought of Zou-zou and her wonderful design.

ALLISON: When not creating books for young people, how do you like to spend your time?

NICK: I mostly think of this whole children’s-book-author-and-illustrator gig as a part-time job. My full-time job, the one that takes up most of my time, is that of Daddy for my daughter Izzy. I really do enjoy our one-on-one time together. So, really, making these books is what I do when I have spare time from being with Izzy.


ALLISON: Besides the cats you have known, who most inspires your ideas for Bad Kitty?

NICK: Actually, cats don’t inspire the stories for my books as much as you might think. I really don’t think of Kitty as a cat so much as I think of her as a little kid who happens to be shaped like a cat.

I don’t think there is any one thing that inspires my ideas. Mostly, when I’m in need of ideas, I find myself just sitting back and contemplating anything and everything that comes to mind. Not the most provocative answer, I know, but an honest one.

ALLISON: What do you think is the appeal of Bad Kitty to those kids who have autism or aspergers?

NICK: Starting about 5 years ago, I started received multiple emails from parents and teachers of kids on the Asperger’s end of the Autism spectrum. Simultaneously, I began meeting those same kinds of kids at public events. A pattern was beginning to develop, so I decided to correspond with those parents who were open to it and find out what they thought Bad Kitty’s appeal was to those kids. I received two answers from them, both of which surprise me.

First, they told me that their kids really responded to Kitty’s facial features and expressions. This surprised me because it was counterintuitive to what people think about autistic kids, that they do not interpret or respond to facial expressions, that they find them too subtle and confusing. All of this is true, but apparently with Kitty’s face this was not the case. Kitty’s face is static on the page.

Her face usually takes on extreme expressions, so there is little doubt about what emotion she’s trying to convey. And it probably helps that her face is depicted in black and white to further make her expressions distinct.

The second thing I learned, and apparently this came from the kids themselves, was that they thought Bad Kitty herself was autistic. I think it’s natural for readers to identify with characters that appeal to them, but there was some real reasoning behind their thoughts. Kitty does not like change. Kitty often takes things quite literally. What may be obvious to others, is not obvious to Kitty. I certainly was not conscious of having created an autistic character, but if this is how she is interpreted, then it’s an interpretation I will embrace.

ALLISON: Obviously your Bad Kitty books are designed to entertain. Do you think there are also lessons which young people might gain from them?

NICK: I think children’s book authors tread on a slippery slope when they become conscious of trying to convey a lesson in their work. More often than not, the lesson can distract from the story itself. Having said that, the only book I’ve written in which I was conscious of conveying a lesson would be Bad Kitty: Drawn To Trouble. This Bad Kitty book about how to write a Bad Kitty book is my attempt to encourage kids to write their own stories. In many ways, I do consider this one to be the most important book I’ve ever made.

ALLISON: If readers were to search out books of yours beyond Bad Kitty, which one would you most like them to find?

NICK: I think my book A Wonderful Year which comes out in early January would be the book I’d suggest. It’s my first non-Bad Kitty book in about five years, and it’s one that I’m extremely proud of. The notion for this book came to me one morning when I contemplated what I might have done had I been asked to create a Nutshell Library much like Maurice Sendak and Hilary Knight had once been asked to do. The result is this book, four short stories inside one picture book about a girl and the wonderful things that happen to her during each season of the year.

Thank you for the great questions.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel is an experience like no other. In this colorful extravaganza, Bruel elevates the picture book experience beyond the ordinary. He also takes alphabet books to a new creative height.

There are movies which from the moment the first credit rolls right onto the screen to the moment that the last credit rolls off the screen are a cinematic experience. Bad Kitty offers the equivalent experience in picture book form. From the front cover, to the title page, through even the small print and the dedication, right to the back cover, pretty much every page is a visual treat. Immediately inside, the title book page displays the handiwork of Bad Kitty: Paw prints mark almost every inch of the room; Tossed about in various locations across the living room are foods from an overturned fruit bowl. Finally, there is a cracked painting, scratched lamp, ripped couch, and emptied desk. As for the parade of alphabet pages, each displays four colorfully-framed examples of food or mischief drawn in delightful line art. Bad Kitty makes her appearance on each page, most often in the center, wearing very pronounced expressions. I can’t imagine reading this book without being inspired to create a fan tale. Even the front and back covers have a tie-in, although you might need to read the entire book to see the connection.

With regards to the alphabet, Bruel takes readers through it not just once, twice, or thrice, but FOUR times! The first time through, Bruel displays all the foods which the family has left and that Bad Kitty does not want to eat. All of them are healthy options including lettuce and radishes. My only complaint is that some, such as mushrooms and onions, shouldn’t have even been offered because they are in reality toxic to cats. The second time, Bruel shows us all the ways that Bad Kitty invokes revenge for these foods even having been suggested. Some of the mischief is not common to cats such as biting ankles and clawing curtains, while others are more original such as flooding the bathroom. The third time, Bruel displays all the new foods which the family buys for Bad Kitty, all of which is immensely appealing to a cat. My favorites include fried flies and lizard lasagna. The fourth and final time, Bruel shows all the ways that Bad Kitty made amends for all the damage he inflicted, many of which parallel the original examples including apologizing to Grandma for biting her ankle and repairing the curtains that he ripped.

You should view Bad Kitty as pure silliness and entertainment. If a lesson is to be drawn though, you might find it in the fact that Bad Kitty does decide to become a good kitty. Moreover, she immediately sets about trying to set all wrongs to right. She cleans her overturned litter box, kisses a goldfish, and mops the bathroom, to name a few examples. Then again, when her owners try to reward her with a new play friend…. Well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Bad Kitty is bad. But she doesn’t always mean to. Whatever your age, I dare you to not love Bad Kitty. I suspect that every page and each new book will have you laughing at all of Bad Kitty’s antics. She is just that adorable and fun.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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