Author Q&A with Yona Zeldis McDonough

November 30, 2011

Author Yona Zeldis McDonough  (web­site) wrote The Cats in the Doll Shop (my thoughts) which not only did I like, but my daughter (who is turning 7 today) liked as well. My daughter had some questions for Ms. McDonough and here is the best Author Q&A ever – that of a proud father.

Q.Why did you put cats in the book?
Many years ago, my husband and used to watch the comings and goings of a stray, pregnant cat outside the back window of our apartment in NYC.  The cat had her kittens in an unused dresser drawer that had been stowed on a terrace.   When the owner discovered the kittens, she swept them off the terrace with a broom.  Two died, and three survived; one of the survivors broke his leg in the fall. The broken limb atrophied and eventually fell off but the three legged kitten managed to get around anyway.  We worried about how he would manage, and left food out for him.  He became surprisingly agile for a three legged cat and we came to love him for his spirit and his resilience.  He was the model for the cat in my story.
Q. I am wondering why you named the little girl Anna?
I thought it was a pretty, old-fashioned name, the kind of name a Jewish girl of that time and place would be likely to have. I try to put myself back in the historical moment in which I am writing, and look for the little details that make a book feel like it is really of that world.
Q. Why did you give the parents a doll shop?
A. Because I love dolls and get so much pleasure from writing about them!  I was reading about the early life of Beatrice Alexander, the founder of the legendary Madame Alexander Doll Company. Her father, a Russian, Jewish immigrant, owned the first doll hospital in America.  It was on the Lower East Side of NYC, a place where there was a huge concentration of Jews from Eastern Europe.  He and his family lived in an apartment above the shop. Little Bertha (that was her given name; she changed it to Beatrice later on) and her sisters were allowed to play there sometimes. Imagine how that must have been for a little girl! A whole shop filled with dolls, dolls and more dolls! When I read about that, I knew that I wanted to use the doll shop as the setting for a story.
Q. Did people really send their kids from Russia to America all by themselves?
Tania did not go by herself.  She travelled with a friend of her mother’s. It was a long and difficult journey across the ocean.  A little girl would not have undertaken it alone.  But even though Tania went with her mother’s friend, she still missed her mother and wished they could be together.  Many Jews left Eastern Europe at this time; they were desperate to escape the widespread persecution in their home countries.
Q. Why did the girl named the cat with the broken leg plucky?
A.The word “pluck” means: resourceful courage and daring in the face of difficulties; spirit. I thought those qualities described the little cat in my story perfectly.   Anna recognizes the cat’s bravery and responds to it.  That’s why she gives him that name.
Zohar – Man of la Book
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  • Jonathan November 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    You really should be a proud papa. That’s an insightful youngun you’ve got there, and she loves books, so that’s a double thumbs up. Thank your little one for me, and tell her we’d love to hear more from her again.

    Kids these days… you gotta be careful to raise them right and make them cherish their literacy!

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