Bob Shea and Ballet Cat Before Breakfast

h1 April 14th, 2015 by jules

Pictured above is a sketch of the stars of Bob Shea’s new early reader series, Ballet Cat. That’s Ballet Cat herself and her best friend, Sparkle Pony.

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret (Disney-Hyperion) hits shelves early next month. Shea, one of the funniest authors in the field today, captures well the dynamics of play when one friend is a bit more domineering than the other. (I relate all too well. When I was little, it was Daring Donna across the street, who’d try to get me to leap from the playground swing and grab on to the pole on the other side of the swingset.) All’s well that ends well with these two best friends, but things are tenuous for a while there while Sparkle Pony admits that he isn’t fond of ballet, the one thing that Ballet Cat enjoys the most. The text is minimal; the illustrations, uncluttered; the humor, distinctive; and the comic timing, spot-on. Shea captures expressive body language in both characters with simple and bold lines, and he plays with font size to add humor and meaning.

Bob is here today to share some images from the original Ballet Cat pitch (it’s remarkable, as you can see below, how much the story was pared down for what readers hold in their hands), some early sketches, and some final art. We also talk a bit below about the very funny Dinosaur Vs. Mommy (also Disney-Hyperion), which was released last month.

I thank him for visiting.


Jules: Please tell me this is going to be a series. It’s going to be a series, right?

I just read the back cover, which says, indeed, it’ll be a series, so now my question is: When will the next one be out?


Final art
(Click each spread to enlarge)


Bob: It is going to be a series. My publisher mentioned something about at least twenty titles.

Or was it two to start and we’ll see how it goes?

Yes, two.


From the first pitch of Ballet Cat
(Click each to enlarge)


The second book is out next February. Leap, Butter Bear, Leap! is about a reluctant Ballerina Bear who refuses to do the super-high leaps that make ballet so much fun. After a lot of stalling, Ballet Cat finds the real problem and sorts it out with the power of ballet.

It’s been a big hit at school visits.

Jules: Isn’t this your first early reader series (officially)? You did illustrate one by Charise Mericle Harper, yes? Any challenges in going from picture books to the controlled vocabulary of “early readers”?

Bob: I did illustrate a series called Wedgieman for Charise Mericle Harper, but this is my first solo outing.

You know, you really get a lot more latitude with the language in picture books, but it’s a different animal. I don’t think of it as a picture book with more pages. It’s a moment these characters are sharing. The focus is on the characters, their personalities, and the way the interaction plays out. So the whole 48-page book can take place over the course of a ten-minute conversation. There’s more of an opportunity to let a joke play out and make the best use of the timings and beats of the story.

As far as the simpler language goes, that’s not really a problem. Not for me anyway. I write something kid-friendly like, “My goodness, Ballet Cat. Those resplendent pearls give you an air of gravitas! Let’s use calculus to determine the speed and change of your leaps at various intervals! What a conundrum!” said Differential Dog.

My editor, Steph Lurie, will make a suggestion like, “My goodness, Ballet Cat. Your pearls are very nice. I wonder how high you leap?” said Math Dog.

So that helps.

More from the first pitch of Ballet Cat
(Click each to enlarge)


Jules: I love how Goat appears in Dinosaur Vs. Mommy. How’s Goat doin’? Is he still ridding the world of crime with acts of cloven justice? Will we see him and maybe even Unicorn in future books? Can we humans get some Goat PJs, too?

Bob: Goat is doing well, thanks.

I’m working on some more Goat and Unicorn stories now. I’d love to exploit the popularity of the first book and crank out a second-rate sequel in a bald-faced cash grab, but the aforementioned editor, Steph Lurie, has this idea stuck in her head about making something “good.”

I don’t think she understands how bad I want—no, NEED—a new camera.

The popularity of Unicorn Thinks he’s Pretty Great really took me by surprise. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I handed in the final art and thought, “Well, that career tangent was fun, back to graphic design.” I underestimated how many people have a unicorn in their lives and could relate to the story.

There are no plans for Goat PJs at this time.

Jules: This may be my favorite Dinosaur Vs. book yet. Do you have a bunch of Dinosaur Vs. rejected book ideas, by chance?

Also, this is not a question, but I make everyone I meet in children’s lit watch this, because it makes me laugh so hard:



Bob: Thanks, Julie. You’re my favorite person yet.

I do have a bunch of rejected ideas — and piles and piles of ideas from kids. The one that stands out is Dinosaur vs. Milking a Franchise, which amounts to not much more than forty pages of me signing checks to my mortgage company and saving for my son’s college education. It got pretty far into the acquisition process, but ultimately they went with Dinosaur vs. Mommy.

It’s difficult for authors when publishers insist on making things that people might actually like and not phony-baloney things that have no value beyond my personal amusement.



Jules: What’s next for you?

Bob: Currently, I’m working on a book for Hyperion, called The Scariest Book Ever, which teaches kids about hyperbole and disappointment.

I’m also working on an early graphic novel and a chapter book. Neither book is sold. I’m just mentioning it to jinx myself and never actually finish.

I’m trying to find excuses to work with some of my kid-lit chums, like Zach Ohora and Drew Daywalt. We’ll probably get something going after they get back from vacation or wherever they went. They haven’t returned my calls, emails, DMs, texts, and hand-written letters on personalized stationary, since I mentioned the word collaboration.

* * *

Thanks again to Bob for visiting. I hope his friends return his calls.

Here are some early sketches from Ballet Cat.


* * * * * * *

BALLET CAT: THE TOTALLY SECRET SECRET. Copyright © 2015 by Bob Shea. Published by Disney-Hyperion, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Bob Shea.

6 comments to “Bob Shea and Ballet Cat Before Breakfast”

  1. “Dinosaur versus Milking” a franchise = Hysterical!

  2. That was such a awesomely fun interview. Thank you Jules and Bob! Loved the video clip.

  3. Oh, my goodness, this was SO funny!! I have an ARC of Ballet Cat, and it is hilarious, too. Reminds me of Elephant and Piggie in that it’s highly emotive while appearing so simple. Kids are going to love it.

  4. Is this going to be a series?

  5. There is no way NOT to love this! lol Bob Shea is hilarious—and that VIDEO! LOL! “My goodness, Bob Shea Those resplendent sketches give you an air of gravitas! Let’s use calculus to determine the speed and increase of your income at various intervals! What a phenomenon!” said Admiring Aardvark. 😀

  6. […] scary!”   It’s a pleasure to showcase some art and preliminary images today from Bob Shea’s The Scariest Book Ever (Disney-Hyperion, July 2017). Remember last year’s The Happiest Book […]

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