Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 12, 2019

Book Giveaway: WINTER CATS by Janet Lawler

Janet Lawler has written a new picture book titled, WINTER CATS, illustrated by Ela Smietanka, who was featured on Illustrator Saturday in August. It hit book shelves on September 1st, published by Albert Whitman & Company.

Janet has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Janet and Ela!

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!


Willy’s an indoor cat who dreams of becoming an outdoor cat, but his parents tell him that indoor cats and outdoor cats are different. When he sees the outdoor cats having tons of wintery fun, he decides to sneak out and join in! Willy and his new outdoor friends soon learn that labels are meaningless in the face of friendship.


I am thrilled to share this book’s journey on Writing and Illustrating since my story was inspired by an illustration that was shown on an Illustrator Saturday on March 9, 2013! Susan Detwiler was featured that day, and her adorable illustration of mice ice skating on a frozen bird bath caught my eye.

I began writing Winter Mice, about an indoor mouse who ignores his parents’ prejudices about outside mice and ventures out to make friends at their winter carnival. I had loads of fun imagining what other outdoor activities there might be besides a bird bath skating scene. My mice twirled down icicles, made tiny snow angels, and built snowmice that wore acorn hats and birdseed eyes.

Considering Collaboration

After numerous revisions and several reads at my weekly critique group, the project was polished. I started thinking that perhaps Susan Detwiler could illustrate, even though I was well aware that author-illustrator self-pairing is something generally not accepted in our industry. I contacted her to thank her for her inspiration and explore possible collaboration.

We had an exchange of e-mails and chatted on a call, considering possible complications—her original illustration was done under a greeting card company contract that might create rights issues, and we both had other “mouse” books in the works (her lovely book, Fine Life for a Country Mouse, was to be published in 2015, and I had a Halloween novelty book featuring mice under consideration at a couple of houses). Ultimately, we agreed to simply keep in touch, and if my story ever sold I would propose her if asked for illustrator suggestions.

Text Troubleshooting

Well, fast forward another year or so. I had written yet another story featuring a mouse.  Mirabel’s Missing Valentines was accepted by Sterling, but that left me pondering what to do with Winter Mice, since I had two different mouse protagonists in these unrelated stories. More importantly, I now had an agent who thought the indoor/outdoor dichotomy I’d created would work much better if I featured cats instead of mice. She was right! So, I went to work turning mice into cats (who skate on a pond instead of a bird bath).

After a few submissions, Winter Cats was acquired by Albert Whitman, where I had recently had Fright School acquired and published.

My manuscripts often have a trouble spot or two. For this story, my opening several lines posed the greatest challenge.  I revised many times, both before and after acquisition, trying to decide why my protagonist’s parents didn’t want him to go outside.

My earliest version had the parents wanting to keep Chester (my mouse protagonist) safe. Here were my early lines:

Chester was an inside mouse.

He’d never been outside.

His mother warned, “The safest mice

are those that stay inside!”


But Chester wondered every day,

while peeking through the bricks,

what life was like and who he’d meet

among the trees and sticks.


“Those outside mice are dangerous

and nasty,” said his dad.

“They claw and scratch and fight all day.

That sort of mouse is bad!”

I was hoping to create a lot of tension, but in fact was creating plot problems/issues. If going outside was that dangerous, maybe I’d scare my readers. Also, if safety was the parents’ main concern, my protagonist would be disobeying them in a way that would be a bad lesson for kids! Also, I was taking too much time getting the story going.

So, without sharing here the word-by-word, line-by-line tweaking I undertook over time (with feedback from my writers’ group, agent, first editor, and then second editor at Albert Whitman), I fine-tuned and tightened the opening. Willy’s mom is now simply prideful and thinks her way of life is better; Willy’s dad prejudges the “different” outdoor cats without knowing them. My story now begins:

Willy was an indoor cat.

He’d never been outside.

“Our life inside is cozier,”

his mother said with pride.


“Those outdoor cats are weird and wild—

they’re not like us,” said Dad.

But Willy wondered while he watched.

I bet they’re not so bad.

Being Grateful

Once the text was finalized, I was gratified to have input on sketches. I am thrilled with the colorful final illustrations of Ela Smietanka. Her textures and detail add so much humor and joy to my story.

My book’s journey highlights the far reach and impact of all that Kathy Temean generously shares on this blog. I would not have written the story that became Winter Cats if I hadn’t seen Susan Detwiler’s illustration back in 2013. So, thanks to Kathy and Susan—art inspires art!

I hope readers will enjoy my winter tale and its subtle inclusiveness message. My website page for Winter Cats includes a free downloadable curriculum guide (keyed to CCSS) as well as a Winter Cats coloring sheet. And if you do visit, please sign up for my blog off my home page.


Janet Lawler’s critically acclaimed fiction and nonfiction children’s books, published by major, specialty, and mid-publishers, include If Kisses Were Colors, Snowzilla, The Prehistoric Games, Love Is Real, Fright School, and Mirabel’s Missing Valentines. Ocean Counting (Nat’l. Geo.), featuring undersea photos by award-winning Brian Skerry, was named an Outstanding Trade Science Book by the Nat’l. Science Teachers Association and was followed by Rain Forest Colors.

Her coffee-table quality pop-up books include several for major holidays, as well as ones offering thematic, early non-fiction (LEAVES; SHELLS).

Janet’s love of family, nature, and “all things silly” inspires much of her writing. Her family shares their home in Connecticut with a dog and assorted wildlife visiting the backyard.

Janet enjoys visiting schools and libraries. Visit her website at


Ela Smietanka is a Polish illustrator. Her adventure with drawings started when she was a little girl. In order to make her dreams come true, she graduated from the Faculty of Graphics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, where she now lives with her husband, two sons, a cat named Zuzia, and some other cats from the neighbourhood. She is a freelancer. In her work she combines pencils, paints and Photoshop, happily discovering again and again new digital techniques. When she is preparing draft illustrations, she listens to audiobooks, and with a good novel she may work until dawn. In her free time, she likes to cycle listening to energetic music. If she were to choose a job other than an illustrator, she would be a dancer.

Janet, thank you for sharing yur book and its’ journey with us. It was fun to hear how something on this blog inspired this book. Ela’s illustrations are wonderful and your rhyme is a joy. Good luck with the book!

Talk tmorrow,



  1. how darling is this?!


  2. Very cute!


  3. Looks adorable, sounds adorable, IS adorable! I can’t wait to read this one! Congrats!


  4. I, too, had written an inside and outside cat story, but you were lucky to find an editor to publish yours, and what a cute book! Guess mine goes back in the file!


    • Sorry, Natasha! I have had that same thing happen to me more than once, and it is disheartening!
      But don’t forget to pull your story out after a few years; there is always a home for a good story, even if it has some parallels to another out there.


  5. This book looks charming! I love the rhymes and adorable illustrations. Congrats!!


  6. This is such a well-written and clever story – perfectly rhymed and metered, too! The illustrations are a perfect match with the text and the cats’ faces are very expressive. Love it!


  7. I enjoyed reading the backstory for this adorable book!


  8. This book looks perfectly adorable. I will check it out.


  9. Sounds like an interesting rhyming PB. I look forward to reading it.


  10. Such a sweet idea for a story–and love the illustrations!


  11. I love cats and winter! And my cat loves racing around in the snow as well as snuggling warm inside. This book will be a hit! Congrats! I get your blog in my email. 🙂


  12. I love seeing how this story come together. It looks terrific.


  13. What a cute idea for a story!


  14. Thanks to all for the very kind and enthusiastic comments on Winter Cats!


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