Curiosity gets the best of Norman the Hereford calf in the latest instalment of the Barn Cat Buttons book series, set to officially launch on April 2.
The series follows Baby Boy Buttons – a barn cat with attitude and a sense of adventure.
Airdrie author Ann Edall-Robson teamed up with illustrator Karon Argue of High River to bring the story, which is inspired by real characters, to life.
Edall-Robson grew up in British Columbia's ranch country but after roughly 40 years in Alberta, she now calls Airdrie home. Throughout her life, she was surrounded by four-legged creatures, who serve as the inspiration for the stories she writes.
“If you've lived with animals or been around animals, you know they're characters in and of themselves,” she said.
After writing numerous books and publishing her photography, Edall-Robson’s late-husband suggested she write some children’s books. He was raised on a ranch and often talked about the antics of the aloof barn cat.
“My husband said…’Use the farm animals, and bring these stories to life,’” Edall-Robson recalled.
The character of Buttons was inspired by the cat on her husband’s ranch. Edall-Robson said the feline had an attitude but would curl up purring on someone’s lap until he was done and wanted no more attention.
The character of Norman was inspired by a calf on a friends’ ranch, and the story evolved from an event that actually happened.
“This little Hereford calf just kept coming toward us and then he would run and play and kick up his heels and he'd come back and get closer and then hide behind his mom,” Edall-Robson explained.
Then one day, the calf caught his head in something, which the ranchers had to remove. While the calf wasn’t hurt from the incident, Edall-Robson softened the story a little bit to form it into a children’s book.
“I thought I could make this into a children's book using it as a lesson: don't go where you're not supposed to and do things you're not supposed to,” she said.
The book shows kids they can’t always do exactly what they want to do just because they think it’s fun at the moment.
Another main character that comes up throughout this series is The Wise One – a man who offers guidance to Buttons and leads him back down the “straight and narrow.”
Edall-Robson said the character is based on her late husband.
“I lost him two years ago and he was always the voice of reason,” Edall-Robson explained about the inspiration behind the character. “He just had such a connection with animals.”
At the end of the story, The Wise One suggests that Buttons apologize to Norman's mom for making her worry so much, and the young cat has to learn how to apologize.
“Those things give [kids] some guidance in life skills, and that in life itself there's consequences,” Edall-Robson said. “And if they don't get that and they just like the story and they just like the colours and the pictures in it, that’s great too.”
She added the book can serve as a segue for parents and adults to open up dialogue with their children, and it provides kids insight into western ranch life.
Edall-Robson is passionate about writing books with a bit of the western lifestyle in them to carry on to next generations, she added.
“The kids' books are so fun to write and Karon Argue, my illustrator, just brings them to life,” she said.
It was important to Edall-Robson to have an illustrator who understood ranch life or had been raised around animals, because she didn’t want cartoon-like characters with big noses or eyes.
After seeing Argue’s work, Edall-Robson immediately knew she was the right illustrator for her stories.
They hit it off right away and Argue, who was raised on a farm, understood how cats have attitudes and how calves are inquisitive, Edall-Robson said.
According to Argue’s website, the illustrator became blind in 2010, losing most of her eyesight as a result of severe type 1 diabetes. Despite the loss of her vision, she continued her work as an artist, creating vibrant, colourful books like the Barn Cat Buttons series.
In celebration of Children’s International Book Day, Norman will officially launch on April 2, between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Copper and Twine in Airdrie. Edall-Robson will be available to autograph books or just to chat about the stories.
There will be draws every half hour for local products and businesses, with the main draw happening at 4 p.m.
The book comes with bonus activity pages and is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Copper and Twine (Airdrie), and the author’s website, AnnEdallRobson.com