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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - Cathy Ballou Mealey

I first met Cathy Ballou Mealey when we participated together in the book marketing group, #Epic18. I love the adorable antics in her debut picture book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, which released on April 2, 2019 (illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejksa). Read on for Cathy's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection.

STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to reflect on the writing life and talk a little bit about my debut picture book, When A Tree Grows!

My inspiration typically comes from keeping my eyes and ears open, mixing in a little bit of research, and leaning on mentor texts to shine some light on my path. I often find inspiration from walks in nature, observations of animal behavior, the movement of water, and the growth of plants and trees. When A Tree Grows was sparked by a distant creaky Crash! that I heard in the woods while hiking with my family. I wondered: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?

When something stands out as a possible story idea, I visit the library and research all the non-fiction sources I can find. Books on squirrels, moose and bears were informative and fun to read even though my story is fiction. Bonus – now I have lots of cool facts to share with young readers at book events.

For mentor texts, I look for recently published books or classic stories with interesting structures. When A Tree Grows was pitched with If You Give A Mouse A Cookie as a comp title, but One-Dog Canoe was the mentor text that boosted my story structure. The ‘what could happen next?’ twist with each page turn inspired my zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.

CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

My undergraduate degree was in psychobiology, so I am trained to think about solving problems in creative ways through observation and the empirical method. As a parent of a child with special needs, I work every day on introducing new skills and reinforcing mastered material in fun, natural settings. For me, creativity is usually a thought and logic puzzle structured by setting goals, shaping outcomes, and looking for new growth opportunities.

Of course, like most writers I also enjoy reading broadly, browsing bookstores, and attending conferences and workshops. I feel creatively content with plenty of time to explore museums, hike, take photographs and spend time with my family.

CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

My intention is to connect with young readers by writing stories that will entertain and nurture a life-long love of books and reading. As a child, my favorite read-to-me book was Corduroy (Don Freeman), and my favorite picture book was Crictor (Tomi Ungerer). As I was learning to read, I loved Richard Scarry’s colorful, carefully labeled Busytown books. I still get excited, decades later, when talking about any of those titles! I’ve found that young readers also love to talk about their favorite books and characters if you intentionally offer them time and attention for sharing.

I connect with the KidLit community through social media, hoping to help boost and promote books and ideas that I feel passionate about on Twitter, Instagram, etc. My picture book debut groups have also provided fantastic learning and connecting opportunities – hooray Epic18 and Notable19 folks! Of course in-person events such as conferences, workshops, critique groups, and book signings are also essential for meeting writers, illustrators, readers and book people. The challenge for me is to maintain a healthy balance between the daily demands of family, career and community responsibilities while seeking or nurturing the creative spark!


WHEN A TREE GROWS Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska Sterling Children’s Books, April 2, 2019 Fiction, ages 3-7

WHEN A TREE GROWS is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.

Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.



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