The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Judith Roth and Review of Cadance and Kittenfish
Judith Roth has been a poet, a musician, a youth minister, an editor, and an ASL interpreter in local schools. Throughout all of those, she's remained a writer at heart and in practice. Judith holds a master's in theology degree, along with a B.A. in English and music. Growing up in a southern California beach town is probably what developed her love of water and sunlight. She's also a big fan of cats, nature, traveling, kayaking, and of course reading!
She’s author of Hiding Baby Moses illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (2021),Venetian Lullaby illustrated by Kendra Binney (2021), Goodnight, Dragons illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre (2015), Serendipity and Me (2013), Julia's Words illustrated by Brooke Rothshank (2009), and Cups Held Out illustrated by Brooke Rothshank (2006).
Her newest picture book, Cadence and Kittenfish: A Mermaid Tale, releases September 13th.
Welcome Judith, thank you so much for coming by to talk about your newest book and your writing.
I'm honored to be here!
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 since I was a young child. I remember writing my first rhyming poem on our blackboard at home and finding out how easy it is to rhyme and make a terrible poem. But it was still a poem!
My favorite type of book to write is probably picture books because you are only dealing with a few words. I love novels, but they're so complicated. I have a tough time keeping all the pieces in place. I really like working intensely on a few words. And I love seeing how magical picture books become when the text is paired with an illustrator.
I don't have a specific time to write. My most common place to write is sitting at my computer in my office—which, lucky me, looks out over a river. It doesn't distract me, though. During certain times of the year, I go down to the dock with a notebook and get inspired by the water and the wildlife. Maybe the strangest place I've had a good revising time was in a busy airport.
Oh, I'd love to have a dock where I could dream and write. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Hm. I don't know if I've shared this with anyone: When I was young, I wished I had a dolphin friend like Flipper, or like Vicky Austin did in A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L'Engle. Truthfully, that would still be a dream come true. Although it has been spoiled a bit by an episode of The Simpsons.
Oh my gosh, I am right there with that childhood wish for a dolphin friend. Where did you get the inspiration for Cadence and Kittenfish: A Mermaid Tale?
I think I was working on an idea about an animal-loving kid who couldn't have a pet because he lived in an apartment—based on a worst nightmare scenario of my own about what if I couldn't have cats anymore because someone in my family became allergic. I'm not sure how I made the leap to a mermaid and a kitten. Imagination is a mysterious thing.
Maybe your subconscious child still wants a dolphin? Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
I wasn't born in the dark ages, but I was born long ago enough that there weren't nearly the riches of children's literature as there are now. Apparently, Where the Wild Things Are was available, but I never saw it until I was a grown-up. The books I remember living in our house were labeled "Beginner Books" with a picture of The Cat in the Hat in the upper right corner. I don't remember having one favorite book as a child. I loved all the books and looked forward to going to the library every week and coming home with stacks of books.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Cadence and Kittenfish?
Fun fact: When I was imagining a mermaid's environment, I pictured a rocky Atlantic coastline with a lighthouse. I didn't realize when I wrote Cadence and Kittenfish that sea otters don't inhabit the east coast. When I found that out, I got a little worried that my fiction was too far off from reality. (Yes, I realize I was writing about a mermaid....) Fortunately, there are a few lighthouses on the Pacific coast (about eight), so it turned out the premise wasn't completely at odds with geography. Also, I really love the three main characters of this book!
That's funny! Yes, we do have a number of lighthouses up and down the West coast. How many revisions did Cadence and Kittenfish take from first draft to publication? Was this similar or different from your other books?
I can't answer this question with a number. There were so, so many. The first draft was at least eight years ago and looks nothing like the published book.
Each book experience is different. Goodnight, Dragons didn't have very many revisions, comparatively. Usually there are a lot, though, for my books.
What was the toughest aspect of writing or revising Cadence and Kittenfish?
Getting the voice right. I think the premise of the book was good from the beginning, but Cadence's voice started off as too sad, too whiny. I finally jumped off into a whole different beginning to get into her current playful, feisty voice.
You did a great job with her personality. When you first saw Jaclyn Sinquett’s illustrations in Cadence and Kittenfish, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?
I was delighted in general. Jaclyn really captured Cadence's personality. I was surprised by her rendition of Dad as an underwater farmer. Cool idea. And I was smitten by the illustration of the kitten being wrapped in a towel by Cadence. So adorable!
Text © Judith Roth, 2022. Image © Jaclyn Sinquett, 2022.
But the spread I like the best is the one where Cadence is doing her daily schedule of dance class with the dolphins, ding-dong-dashing the fisherman, and Tai Chi with the lighthouse keeper. Jaclyn pulled that spread off wonderfully.
You are well matched. I enjoyed the textural and visual tongue in cheek humor throughout the book. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I'm trying to sell a picture book that I really love about a yak who yearns to kayak at summer camp. He's a funny, determined yak and I think the funniest spread will be the many ways he tries and fails to get into the snack-size kayak.
That sounds hysterical! Good luck with it. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I love the redwoods, so any of the national or California state parks that have redwoods would fit the bill. The sheer size of the trees, along with their age, is amazing. And it feels like a mystical experience to walk beneath them in the quiet of the forest.
I also have a soft spot for Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. When you're down in any of the many caves, it's just otherworldly.
© NPS Photo
Thank you, Judith for participating in this interview. It was wonderful to get to know you.
Thanks so much for your questions, Maria!
To find out more about Judith Roth, or contact her:
Review of Cadence and Kittenfish: A Mermaid Tale
I'm excited to introduce you all to a funny, heartfelt, and gorgeously illustrated picture book about a little mermaid who discovers that her dreamed for perfect pet has been right under her nose.
Cadence and Kittenfish: A Mermaid Tale
Author: Judith Roth
Illustrator: Jaclyn Sinquett
Publisher: Starry Forest Books (2022)
Friendship, mermaids, problem-solving, determination, and humor.
Cadence is a very busy little mermaid—dancing with dolphins in the morning and practicing Tai Chi at the lighthouse in the afternoon—but something is missing. She really wants a kitten!
When she discovers a family of felines onshore, Cadence can’t believe her luck. But, as the mermaid tries to play with one of the kittens, she soon discovers that cats do not like water and are very pointy in all the wrong places. Ouch!
With her kitten dreams dashed, Cadence couldn’t be sadder. Is there a pet out there that can love her and the sea? Maybe there’s one right under her fin!
From author Judith L. Roth and artist Jaclyn Sinquett, Cadence and Kittenfish: A Mermaid Tale reminds us to follow our hearts and our fins—and be ready for some surprises!
Since my mersisters swoosh away every morning
and leave me alone,
my days go like this:
What I LIKED about this book:
This is a wonderfully playful book exploring friendship and finding the perfect pet from the perspective of a mermaid! From the cover, Jaclyn Sinquett joins in Judith Roth's rollicking tale of a little mermaid with a big personality who is determined to have a kitten for a pet. Did you notice the otter gazing longingly at the mermaid, as she gazes at the kitten?
Not only does Jaclyn play with this dichotomy throughout the book, she encases the story with fun end papers, adding an extra bit of playfulness for the observant reader. Note the otter in the bottom right of the front end papers and the cat's paw dangling into the water on the upper right of the back end papers. I also love the way she mirrored the energy and frolicking action of the kitten and the otter between these pages. Playing up the idea that an otter is "the kitten of the sea."
© Jaclyn Sinquett, 2022.
Cadence, the youngest mermaid in her family, desperately wants someone to play with - especially when her mersisters leave each day. This opening spread is awesome. Not only is it vibrantly colored and packed with coral reef inhabitants, but it contains shell lamps, bunkbeds, and stack of books that landlocked kids will identify with. But Cadence's angst at being the youngest - perpetually left behind - is palatable.
Text © Judith Roth, 2022. Image © Jaclyn Sinquett, 2022.
But filling her day dancing with dolphins, teasing fishermen, and doing Tai Chi with the lighthouse keeper can't fill the void. Look back at this spread in Judith's interview (above), did you notice the otter furtively following Cadence? One day, Cadence notices the lighthouse keeper has kittens, "boomeranging on the rocks - like a hurricane and a hug, all in one." Oh my gosh, anyone who's ever had a kitten will definitely identify with that statement. And I love the long-suffering look on Momma cat's face when Cadence announces, "I need one!"
Text © Judith Roth, 2022. Image © Jaclyn Sinquett, 2022.
When she asks her merfather for a kitten, he suggests that their catfish, Fluffy, is pet enough, The illustrations are packed with humor - her father farming in a flannel shirt w/ "Kelp Grow" fertilizer - and lots of realistic ocean flora and fauna - such as tube worms, seaweed, coral, starfish, and crabs.
Luring a kitten onto a rowboat, Cadence is excited to scritch it and receive kisses. But Cadence can't figure out how they can play together. The kitten pops the "bubble helmet" she makes, it sees more fish than friend in Cadence's tail, and kittens don't like water. Lucky for kitten, otter is a good life guard. Unlucky for otter, Cadence only has eyes for the kitten. But just when both of their hopes for a friend are smashed.....Well, you can guess, it is a picture book after all. Judith and Jaclyn carry the humor and adorableness through to a very satisfying end.
This is a heartfelt, wonderful book on discovering a friend, while searching for the perfect pet. And being open to the unexpected and observant of opportunities. It's a picture book sure to appeal to kids who love mermaids, oceans and beaches, kittens, and of course otters. With enough visual humor to entertain the adults as they read it over and over and over.
- what would be your perfect pet? What if you were a merperson, what would your perfect pet be then? Can you make a paper bag puppet of that pet, too?
- check out the Storytime Kit for Cadence and Kittenfish.