Nick Bruel visits schools across the United States to talk about his “Bad Kitty” books. And he sees a lot of kids stressed out about the same thing: standardized tests.
So for his new chapter book, “Bad Kitty Takes the Test,” Bruel wanted his readers to relax and laugh – and also question whether tests are all necessary.
Kitty must take a goofy test “to PROVE she is a cat even though she clearly IS a cat,” Bruel said in an email from his home in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Chatty Kitty, another cat, and Uncle Murray, a silly human, take the test, too. And so does a chicken disguised as a cat.
“A chicken is taking the test to demonstrate that the testing process is not necessarily accurate,” Bruel said.
Another chicken is asking the questions and making it clear he doesn’t like cats. No matter what the cats say, the chicken shouts, “Wrong!”
It’s definitely not part of a plan, he says, to have chickens kept as pets while cats “are served at dinnertime on a bed of rice next to potatoes and green beans.”
Like all the “Bad Kitty” chapter books, this one resembles a graphic novel, with dialogue balloons and large comic panels.
Bruel grew up in New York City with a feisty pet who helped inspire Kitty. Zou-zou was black “with a tiny patch of white fur on her chest,” he said.
In kindergarten, Bruel discovered what he called “the magic of comic books.” He also loved reading the comic strip “King Aroo” and children’s books by Jack Kent, especially “The Fat Cat.” This “wonderfully absurd” story is about a cat that “walks through a town eating everything he encounters,” Bruel said.
Bruel enjoys story ideas that are “outright funny.” Kitty has starred in chapter books and picture books about birthdays, babysitters and babies. In a new early reader, “Bad Kitty Does Not Like Snow,” the cranky main character discovers slippery, cold snow for the first time – and high-tails it home to her warm bed.
The author confessed that this is how he feels when he looks out the window and realizes that his morning will be spent shoveling the driveway.
For kids interested in writing, drawing and creating comics, Bruel has one piece of advice: Be brave.
“It’s never easy to work past the ‘you shouldn’ts’ and the ‘you mustn’ts’ and the ‘you can’ts,’ but it really is so critical to listen to your own ‘I wants’ in order to pursue your goals,” he said.
This is advice Bruel is taking himself as he finishes “Bad Kitty: Camp Daze,” which he aims to release in 2018. The pictures are the author’s most complex yet. On one page alone, Kitty appears 25 times!
Bruel said he’s also working on a project completely new to him: a middle-grade novel. “I can’t go into the details yet, but let’s just say that my long history of reading comic books is going to help me tremendously.”