the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog


Posted by Adi Rule on Sat, May 09, 2015 @ 11:05 AM

We're not at all shy about our love for Alicia Potter's new picture book, Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, illustrated by Birgitta Sif, coming on May 12, 2015 from Knopf!

[UPDATE!] We're not the only ones who think this book is the cream of the crop. Miss Hazeltine has been named to the Summer 2015 Top Ten Kids' Indie Next List by the American Booksellers Association! Purr purr purr!


What if you were shy?

What if you were a cat?

There would be a place where you belong: Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats.

Miss Hazeltine has plenty of kitty company, and she gives her beloved scaredy-cats lessons in everything from Bird Basics to How Not to Fear the Broom.

The most timid of all is Crumb. He cowers in a corner. Miss Hazeltine doesn’t mind. But when she gets in trouble and only Crumb knows where she is, will he find his inner courage and lead a daring rescue?

Filled with adorable illustrations, Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats is a tale with many tails … and a story that’s perfect for shy and fearful children, as it both helps them face scary situations and accepts them just as they are.


Welcome, Alicia. Crumb's (the kitten main character) story rings so true to those of us who have loved shy cats (and people). What was the spark that ignited this book?

For several years, I volunteered in the foster program at an animal shelter here in Boston. Many of the kittens I fostered were feral, and it was my job to transform them from petrified, hissing balls of fluff to socialized, adoptable balls of fluff. I had kittens who stayed under the bed for two weeks, kittens who’d run and hide whenever I moved, and one who growled the entire time he was eating. But their metamorphosis was so gratifying and poignant to me. There were many times when I thought a cat wasn’t going to come around and then, one day, it’s purring and sleeping on my head.

Some kittens, though, never got to this point. After a month, it was clear that they weren’t ever going to sit on your lap or love being picked up. They were friendly but preferred to just relax nearby. I started to call them “Next-To-You Cats,” because, given their inherent shyness, this was how they expressed their trust and affection – and it was enough. All of them went on to find homes.

And as someone who was an extremely shy child, I really identified with the idea that shyness isn’t something that you need to get over in order make a contribution or be loved. My hope is that Miss Hazeltine honors these cats and these kids.


Who was your favorite character to write and why?

The cats. They demanded sharp, lively kitty verbs. And it was an interesting challenge to try to find the emotional overlap between cats and children. I wanted the cats, especially Crumb, to be true to feline behavior but also double as the point of identification for the reader. So their fears reflect some that I had as a child — I hated loud noises, hid from people I didn’t know well, and took a while to warm up to new situations.


Birgitta Sif's pictures have so much personality! What was it like to see the illustrations for the book come together?

Exciting! And surprising. During the writing process, I sometimes envisioned Miss Hazeltine as this wiry old woman, sort of the stereotypical cat lady. But I love that Birgitta goes the more unexpected route and depicts her as this young hipster in high tops. And the details in the illustrations add so much to the story. My favorite is the framed photo of the man on the chest of drawers. Who is he? On a school visit recently, I pointed him out to first-graders and asked if they thought Miss Hazeltine had a boyfriend and they all just went, “Ewww.”

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Tell us about your writing community and this book.

I talked about my incredibly helpful and supportive writing community in my last visit to the Launch Pad, but I wanted to give a shout-out to three VCFA alums who read a draft of Miss Hazeltine as part of a VCFA online picture book critique group. A big thank-you to Gretchen Géser, Barbara Santucci, and Dianne White! I was having some doubts about the manuscript at the time, and they gave me the confidence to stand by it.


What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

I suspect that I know more about “sea lettuce” than the average person.


What is your favorite VCFA memory?

The overall feeling of “These are my people.” That I didn’t have to explain to anyone how I was able to write children’s stories without having children, or answer my all-time favorite tooth-gritters: “How can someone review a picture book? What is there to review? (Really.) From day one, the program was all about the writing, and how to make it better alongside people who deeply valued this goal. That these very same people also deeply valued dancing to Madonna in Noble Hall was almost too good to be true.


There are a lot of Triple Threats at VCFA -- Write-Critique-Boogie! :)

Thanks so much for stopping by, Alicia. We're all purrs about Miss Hazeltine (and feel free to send more kitten pictures anytime)!

Alicia Potter also is the author of Jubilee!: One Man’s Big, Bold, and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace, illustrated by Matt Tavares, recipient of the Maine Library Association’s 2014 Lupine Award Picture Book Honor; Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, winner of the Cybils Best Nonfiction Picture Book 2012; and Fritz Danced the Fandango, illustrated by Ethan Long. 

Visit Alicia online at

Topics: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015 release, picture book, Alicia Potter, Birgitta Sif

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