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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Dianna Wilson-Sirkovsky and Review of James' Reading Rescue

Dianna Wilson-Sirkovsky’s life has always been filled with books and cats, passions learned from her Grandma Marg and her mother, Isabel. She renewed her love for picture books while reading to her children, inspiring her to write and share stories of her own later in life.

Her family and herself are deeply committed to animal rescue and the ethical treatment of all animals. They had nine beloved rescue cats that shared their lives for many years. She works as a senior administrator at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where she lives with her husband. Her daughter (who has five rescue cats) gives her great support and honest critiques of her writing! Her son (with one rescue cat) is a magnet for cats – they are drawn to him like catnip! She takes great pleasure in writing children’s stories inspired by true events, imagination, and the joy of adventure and discovery.

Dianna’s debut picture book, James’ Reading Rescue, released October 5th.

Dianna, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut picture book and writing.

Thanks so much for having me, Maria!

Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

I’ve been writing for almost four years now. I don’t write everyday but I’m always thinking about stories. Picture books are my favorite – and all that I have written so far. I rediscovered the joy of picture books while reading to my children many moons ago. I love the way words and illustrations work together to weave a story.

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Hmmm, perhaps that anything baked in a pie crust is my favorite food.

That covers a lot of things! What inspired you to write James’ Reading Rescue?

JRR is based on a true story I read on the internet several years ago. Reading challenges are always timely and it touched my heart as my son struggled with reading when he was young. Also, having raised my children with nine rescue cats, I felt that this was a story I just had to write!

Nine cats! What was the hardest part of writing James’ Reading Rescue?

This was my first PB so everything was a challenge! I was completely untutored in all the rules of writing. I had to learn about story arc, the rule of three, the ‘dark moment,’ and everyone’s bugaboo – show NOT tell! The help of some generous writers along the way was invaluable.

We all have to start somewhere. I'm glad your journey produced this book. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

That’s a long way back! I know that I took out loads of books from the library. I loved the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. I fell in love with picture books when my children were small. I love the wonderful Fern Hollow books by John Patience and the Franklin books by Paulette Bourgeois, so beautifully illustrated by Brenda Clarke. Really, there are so many wonderful books it’s hard to have favorites.

I'm not sure I've read this series. But that cover is delightful. Is there something you want your readers to know about James’ Reading Rescue?

A few things, actually. Everyone struggles with something. Kindness matters even if no one witnesses it. Hard work really does pay off. Reading opens the world and love of (and from) animals opens our hearts. Rescue animals make wonderful family members and black cats (and dogs) are the least adopted because of their color. Please think of these facts next time you’re looking for a new friend!

Great advice. My first rescue was a gorgeous tuxedo cat. He was quite the character. How long did it take from the first draft to publication? What was the hardest part of the publication process? The easiest?

About 3.5 years from beginning to publication. The most difficult part of the entire process was submissions. As a debut writer, I was really groping in the dark. I researched publishers to see who was accepting unsolicited submissions and reviewed their books. I also read everything I could find on upcoming books. Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf was extremely helpful in providing publishers who were unknown to me. Then I had to learn how to write the dreaded query letter…!

The easiest part was working with the wonderful people at Clavis. Although I have no experience with other publishers, I know enough to attest that working with Clavis was a dream. Everyone was so helpful, in both their Belgium and New York offices. There were almost no revisions to speak of, which amazed me!

Interesting. Did anything about Sara Casilda’s illustrations surprise you? What is your favorite spread?

I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderfully intuitive illustrator than Sara! Her work brings James and Ghost’s story to life. It was wonderful working with her. One particular illustration that I didn’t expect and absolutely love is where the cats chase James’ untied shoelace. I had pictured in my mind that he dragged a shoelace held in his hand, but Sara’s literal translation of the text was simply delightful. And I’m so happy that she introduced her own beautiful (white) cat Luna into the story!

Text ©Dianna Wilson-Sirkovsky, 2021. Image © Sara Casilda, 2021.

It’s hard to pick my favorite picture, but this one below just melted my heart the first time I saw it. James seems such an earnest little boy and Ghost peeks out of the box for the first time.

I also love this picture. Beautiful Ghost with his soulful, emerald eyes.

Text ©Dianna Wilson-Sirkovsky, 2021.

Image © Sara Casilda, 2021.

Those are all amazing illustrations. Especially those soulful eyes! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m thrilled to say that I have a second PB coming out next fall with Clavis and I have a couple of other manuscripts with publishers at the moment, so fingers crossed for them! I also have several others that I am revising and another one that keeps yelling in my ear that it’s their turn to be written!

We'll have to keep an eye out. What have you been doing to stay inspired these days?

Like most writers, I think, I go through periods where nothing new comes to me. As I generally like to write stories inspired by real life, I will scroll through animal rescue stories and stories about children who have done amazing things in their communities. Sometimes an idea just strikes out of the blue, but that’s a super-lucky day!

Oh, I can imagine the rabbit holes you end up scooting down. What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with right now. Why?

This is tough because I’m an animal lover through and through. I am particularly concerned with the plight of wolves at the moment, though. These remarkably intelligent, family-oriented animals have been maligned throughout history and are still persecuted and hunted mercilessly, particularly in North America. More of us need to stand in defense of these spectacular animals and their rightful place in our ecosystem. Thanks for asking this, Maria!

Thank you, Dianna for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Thanks for much for this opportunity, Maria. It was wonderful!

To find out more about Dianna Wilson Sirkovsky, or contact her:

Website: still in construction

Review of James' Reading Rescue

James' Reading Rescue

Author: Dianna Wilson-Sirkovsky

Illustrator: Sara Casilda

Publisher: Clavis

Ages: 6-12



Reading challenges, rescue animals, cats, reading, and friendship


An endearing story about reading to your favorite animal.

James struggles with reading and misses recess to practice. To cheer himself up, he visits the cat rescue shelter and befriends Ghost, the cat in the box. But Ghost isn’t quite ready to make friends! As his reading improves, James learns that kindness and perseverance can have unexpected rewards and that having a furry friend is the best gift of all.

Opening Lines:

What a horrible day!

Outside on the playground, James’ friends whooped

and hollered. Inside, James slumped at his desk,

stumbling over words as he read aloud

What I LIKED about this book:

I really like this book for the empowerment and encouragement it offers to kids. To counter the frustration and sadness that struggling with reading at school cause James, he'd visit the rescue shelter and one special black cat he named Ghost. A cat who never left his box to play like the others. I love Sara Casilda's introduction of Ghost - two glowing eyes and just discernable ears.

Text ©Dianna Wilson-Sirkovsky, 2021. Image © Sara Casilda, 2021.

James' emotions around reading are in part caused by the teacher's action of keeping him inside during recess, away from his friends, away from the exercise and stress release he needs, in order to practice his reading. At the risk of upsetting my teacher friends, I've never understood how punishing a child would incentivize them to read. This irks me; like the teachers who punish an entire class for the actions of one kid they themselves can't control, wanting peer pressure to control the child and yet later criticizing when peer pressure explodes.

Fortunately, James finds an accepting, encouraging audience at the rescue shelter. "He stumbled over words, but the cats didn’t notice." Focused on trying to connect with Ghost, James read and read, not realizing that over the weeks it grew easier and he got more animated. Until his growling & snarling reading of "The Adventures of Sabretooth," resulted in a purr from the box.

Text ©Dianna Wilson-Sirkovsky, 2021. Image © Sara Casilda, 2021.

James kept reading as Ghost's eyes "peered from the edge of the box." He read more until Ghost started talking -"Yeow" - and more until Ghost finally came out of the box and intently watched James, "listening to every word." While the cats definitely gave James a safe & nonjudgmental space to work on reading, James' patient determination to make a friend of Ghost by reading to him was the biggest factor in overcoming Ghost's fear and helping James improve his reading. Enough so that he is able to read aloud confidently in class. Sara's softly colored illustrations gorgeously capture the inquisitiveness and mischievious nature of cats (yeah, I love cats!) and James' sweet slightly impish personality. Like Dianna, I love the closeup spread of Ghosts face and his eyes.

Though a slight emotional rollercoaster, the ending is adorable and encouraging, with a definite "aww" moment. This is a wonderful book about patience in making friends, compassion for others, and gentleness with ourselves as we work to master skills. While perhaps not all "reading issues" can be "overcome," this book offers an idea that no matter how one reads, a pet or shelter animal would be grateful for the time and the sound of a child's voice.


- when restrictions ease, see if shelters or rescue centers near you have reading buddy programs. Try reading to the dogs or cats at a shelter.

- what would be your favorite book to read to a cat or dog?

- if you could read a book to animal at the zoo, which animal would you read to and which book would you read?

- read Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog by Lisa Papp about another way to help animals in a shelter.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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