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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Cathy Ballou Mealey and Review of Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle

Cathy Ballou Mealey is a picture book writer and scone lover who has been a crossing guard, gift-wrapper, pet sitter, and college administrator. She has also published children’s book reviews at Good Reads with Ronna and North Shore Children & Families newspaper. Her short story UNDER THE DOCK is forthcoming in the July 2021 issue of Highlights for Children.

And, while she has seen a wild moose, Cathy hasn’t met a wild sloth, yet. She has planted acorns and pickled cucumbers but spends most of her time writing picture books.

For basic information on Cathy, see our earlier interview (here).

Her newest book, Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle, released May 4th.

Thanks Cathy for coming back to talk about your new friends Sloth and Squirrel.

What was the inspiration for Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle?

An article about animal ambassadors in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Sloths Hot, Armadillos Not: Zoos Seek Affection for Overlooked Species" got me interested in learning more about sloths.

Excuse me!

Squirrel here! - I believe since I had the starring role in your debut book, When a Tree Grows, that technically I am the most important and greatest source of your picture book writing inspiration.

That’s true, Squirrel, I always love watching you scurry in my yard. But Moose had a big part to play in that book too. And I think that your most charming qualities are loyalty and your upbeat, supportive friendship with any character that I pair with you.

Uh, thanks. I think?

Hi Squirrel. Thanks for scurrying by and adding your insights into the creation of the book. Cathy, how different was your experience in writing Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle and your first picture book When a Tree Grows?

The biggest difference was writing dialogue for the first time! When a Tree Grows is storytelling through purely third person omniscient narration. And while Sloth is a reserved, silent character, Squirrel really had a LOT to say in the Pickle book.

I did! Because you muzzled me for the entire 32 pages of the first book! And sure Sloth is a deep thinker but without me no one would have said a PEEP about pickles? B_O_R_I_N_G!

Well, technically Mr. Peacock also has a few lines of dialogue, Squirrel. It’s important to learn to share the stage!

I think you did a great job, Cathy (and squirrel). Is there something you want your readers to know about Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle?

Kelly Collier’s brilliant illustrations and briny pickle-toned palette add so much humor, expression, and personality to the story! I especially adore grouchy Mr. Peacock, the pickle plant manager with his bushy, black eyebrows and button-down vest.


Oh Sloth! Are you awake? I was just about to say how cuddly and cute you look in Kelly’s illustrations!

Excuse me – I’d just like to add that in real life I am taller and better looking.

Oh Squirrel…

I don't know Squirrel; I think Kelly captured your essence perfectly! How many revisions did Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle take? What was the hardest part of writing this book?

I had to write and re-write a lot because Squirrel constantly sounded a bit too bossy.


Ha! So, when you got to see Kelly Collier’s illustrations for Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle, did anything surprise you? What is your favorite spread? Why?

Actually, the book cover is what I love the most.

Did you notice how SMALL I am on the cover? And I am about to be clunked in the head by either a dill pickle or a glass jar. Where is the respect?

Text © Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Image © Kelly Collier, 2021.

[ME: Here you go squirrel - here's one of my favorite spreads with all of you in it. And you do have to admit, you are smaller than the other two.]

Yeah, but I have way more lines to say. Mr. Peacock only says 3 words!

Oh Squirrel! Cathy, how are, or have you been, staying creative during these times? Have you found anything that helps you “prime the well”?

Swapping work-in-progress stories with other picture book writers has been a wonderful way for me to stay sharp and to drown out the annoying chattery, squeaky voices in my head.

Look, are you even thinking about a sequel at all? Because I am going to need a BIGGER role! I carry all the action, the zip, zoom, and pizzazz. Can the title be switched around so that it is SQUIRREL AND SLOTH? I’m tired of second billing!

Oh Squirrel…

I see what you mean. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

My next as-yet-unannounced book is in rhyme! I’m so excited! And since there is no word in English that has the perfect rhythm or rhyme for “squirrel” due to different regional accents…

Wait – are you saying that I am NOT in the next book? What an outrage! I refuse to stand for this! After all I have done for you, for Moose, for Sloth! This is how I am treated? Outrageous! Who is the illustrator? I demand a cameo appearance at least!

Oh Squirrel…

I'm with Squirrel. A cameo in the illustrations would be fun. Thank you Cathy, Squirrel, and you too Sloth for stopping by. It was wonderful to chat with you.

To find out more about Cathy Ballou Mealey, or get in touch with her:

Review of Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle

I really loved Cathy's first book When A Tree Grows (review) and was excited when I saw this book's cover announcement. I loved the "Odd Couple" idea of combining a sloth and a squirrel, two individuals with opposite energies and different personalities. And the book definitely lived up to its promise of humor and fun word.

Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle

Author: Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrator: Kelly Collier

Publisher: Kids Can Press (2021)

Ages: 3-7



Friendship, humor, ingenuity, animals, and collaboration.


A speedy squirrel and a sleepy sloth try to get the job done in this funny, heartwarming tale of two lovable, but unlikely, friends. Though Sloth and Squirrel are good friends, they have different ways of doing things --- and different speeds of doing them. So, when Squirrel gets them jobs as pickle packers to earn money for a new bike, things don't go according to plan. It seems that the contrasting skill sets of a fast-as-lightening squirrel and a slow-as-molasses sloth can make for a mess of an outcome, and before long, the friends are shown the pickle factory's door, along with the 677 1/2 jars of pickles they packed incorrectly! Now the pair are bicycle-less, with only pickles to show for themselves. Or so they think --- until the resourceful pair come up with an ingenious plan! This delightful story from Cathy Ballou Mealey is a celebration of friendships of all kinds and a testament to ingenuity and hard work. Packed with funny details that aren't in the text, Kelly Collier's engaging illustrations are full of personality and silly, emotionally expressive humor. Together they create a hilarious picture book that's perfect for a fun and lively read-aloud. At the same time, the positive themes in the book highlight a growth mindset and character education lessons on teamwork, perseverance and initiative.

Opening Lines:

“Sloth, I want a bike,” said Squirrel. “I want a bike

just like that. We could go FAST!”

Sloth nodded s-l-o-w-l-y.

“Let’s go to the store!” said Squirrel.

What I Loved about this book:

Forming the perfect animal "odd couple," a zippy, quick talking squirrel and a slow, methodical sloth are best friends. When Squirrel sees Bear and Bunny zoom past on a tandem bike, he is determined to have one himself. Throughout the book, and here especially, Kelly Collier does such a great job presenting Squirrel's wild, almost frenetic energy.

Text © Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Image © Kelly Collier, 2021.

When Squirrel realizes that bikes cost a lot of money, he deflates. Until methodical, reliable Sloth finds the solution in a "help wanted" flyer for a pickle factory. Kelly really out did herself with the interview spread in Mr. Peacock's office! There are SO many visual gags in this image. My favorites are the degree in Pickleology, a pickle phone (HA!) and a pickle pencil! Just to name a few. Oh, and I agree with Cathy, Mr. Peacock's eyebrows and vest are amazing!

Text ©Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Image © Kelly Collier, 2021.

With his enthusiasm and energy returned, Squirrel quickly dons protective gear and bounds off toward the pickle packing tables. While sloth, well he does what sloths do best and hangs around for a bit. However, things get a bit slippery and they only pack six jars by noon. Granted one more chance, they divvy up the work. Lithe and quick, Squirrel assembles the jars and sloth, hanging from the pipes, "s-l-o-w-l-y stuck on sticky labels." They successfully packaged “Six hundred seventy-seven and one-half jars!” Except - they were unusable. (Spoilers - you'll have to find out why yourself.)

Squirrel and a dozing sloth are fired. Kicked out of the plant with payment for the six good jars (plus all the unusable jars of pickles). When Sloth uses his share to cheer up Squirrel with a fruit pop, speedy Squirrel gets a brain freeze and Sloth discovers yet another thing that doesn't respond well to slowness. And he inadvertently invents . . .

Text © Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Image © Kelly Collier, 2021.

With a lot of fun alliteration and subtle word play, in the text and illustrations, this is a great humorous book on friendship and collaboration, where Squirrel and Sloth ultimately get their desire for speed satisfied, though not as they originally planned. A great reminder that while plans might not always work out and we might not get what we want, if friends stick together, sometimes we get what we need. This DILL-lightfull pickle of a tale is sure to tickle kids and give parents flashbacks to I Love Lucy.


- can you think of other funny jobs Squirrel and Sloth could do to raise money to buy their bike?

- write a description or draw a picture of something you want but don't have the money for. What would you do to raise money?

- what unusual sweet or treat would you invent?


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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