Wait, a place can have too many cats?
That’s the (deeply misguided, and thankfully disproven!) sentiment of the silly community of grown-ups in the new children’s picture book, “The Great Cat Roundup,” written and illustrated by the Baltimore author and illustrator team Amy Pelsinsky and Lisa Pupa. The story takes place within a tight-knit community living on an island in the Chesapeake Bay, which has just as many cats as it does people.
“What’s the problem?” you may reasonably ask.
“There are too many cats on the island,” said the shopkeeper. “I trip on them in the aisles!”
“I can’t fish for crabs without finding them hiding in my boat!” said the waterman.
“I can’t bake a cake without their tails getting in the flour!” said the baker.
“We’ve had enough!” the islanders cried. “What can we do?”
The islanders think they have the perfect scheme to reclaim their favorite easy chairs, but Mother Nature has other plans, and everyone soon realizes that life is better lived together.
Thank the feline overlords that be!
Baltimore Fishbowl spoke to Pelsinsky and Pupa about the book, its origin, the Chesapeake Bay, and plans for future cat books.
The two met over 20 years ago. Pelsinsky got the idea for the story in the middle of the night, wrote it down, and then brought Pupa on board. They were working together at the Baltimore Museum of Art at the time, where Pelsinsky was in marketing and Pupa was in graphic design.
Describing the book as “a picture book for cat lovers of all ages,” Pelsinsky said it’s geared for the two- to six-year-old age range. It’s not based on any island in particular, but part of the story involves the Chesapeake Bay freezing over, which it used to do during the winter many years ago.
The islanders develop “a perfect scheme to get rid of the cats — they take them to the mainland,” Pelsinsky said. “But this is one of those winters in the Chesapeake Bay many years ago.… The bay froze solid, and all those cats came running back home. And then instead of getting in the way of everything, they were making a way for everybody to get through the snow, and they were taking care of all the scraps after dinner, and it turned out that maybe life was better spent together.”
Some of the cats in the book are based on real cats Pelsinsky and Pupa have owned or seen throughout the years. One is a cat that Pelsinsky owned for 19 years; others are based on several community cats in the neighborhood that the neighbors take care of.
“They’re all based on cats I’ve seen or been exposed to, like I had a great cat growing up,” Pupa said. “I think as a kid, I always resonated with cats as wonderful pets and just very sensitive, able to understand you on a level that was personal.”
Pupa added that illustrating feline friends feels like an innate ability.
“I think drawing cats was very second nature because I can feel how they move and how they just get to know their world through the way they move,” Pupa said.
Pelsinsky said she was inspired to incorporate the Chesapeake Bay into the story because she has spent a lot of time with her work around it in her 20 years working in communications for nonprofits, museums, and higher education. She’d heard about an island that long ago was raising black cats for the fur trade, and when the Bay froze in the winter, the cats escaped across its icy surface.
The Bay’s freezing over has been documented with several references to that history, including Delmarva Now identifying the lost island as Poplar Island, which has since disappeared beneath rising waters.
“The Chesapeake Bay used to freeze over, [and] they used to have these kinds of races on the ice, and it was just a very different time than we’re in right now,” Pelsinsky said. “After we published the book, somebody came to me and said, ‘Is this a true story?’ Because apparently, Smith Island maybe 20 years ago, had too many cats and animal rescue came and did a whole spaying and neutering program to control the cat population on the island.”
The two have gone from selling the books out of the trunks of their cars to selling it on Amazon and having it distributed by Ingram Sparks. Pelsinsky teased that she has another children’s book already written, but wouldn’t reveal much about the plotline, other than that it is also about cats. It is not Chesapeake Bay-centered, but it revolves around a little boy who only makes cat noises.