As schools were closing across the country in response to the new coronavirus outbreak in March, publicists at Macmillan sent a request to the company's authors, asking them to do online read-alouds. Bad Kitty creator Nick Bruel was happy to help, but during the long drive from New York to shelter in place with his family in Florida, he wondered if there was more he could do. Just a short few weeks later, that idea is a full book: Bad Kitty: Wash Your Paws, featuring the main character from Bruel’s bestselling series starring a mischievous cat prone to mayhem.
Available for free download on Bruel’s website, Bad Kitty: Wash Your Paws is a coloring book that shares the importance of hand washing with young readers. “The plot had to be topical to what kids were experiencing at the moment,” Bruel said. But turning the idea into a book in two weeks took planning, coordination, and a small amount of luck.
“There was a lot to balance,” Bruel said. “I knew right away that I wanted to talk about the importance of washing hands, especially in a time like this, but my first challenge was to tell that story with Kitty, while not coming off as didactic.” Instead of shying away from details, Bruel decided to provide kids with the scientific information about why washing their hands is important, but to do it in an entertaining way.
His reasons were simple. “I believe pretty firmly that kids know when we’re talking down to them,” Bruel said, “and I was already witnessing firsthand through my daughter’s friends that kids were becoming freaked out by what they were hearing. Certainly, lots of adults were. Talking about why we should all wash our paws, how soap and water literally break germs apart, could also help reinforce our taking personal control of the situation.”
What Bruel did not want to do was spread misinformation. When he arrived in Florida, he immersed himself in articles and guidelines, but then chance took hold. A family friend of Bruel’s who also happened to be staying in Florida is a senior biochemist with a pharmaceutical company. While Bruel wrote, the scientist read his drafts and offered edits for accuracy.
Bruel’s decision to make the title a coloring book was prompted as much by a desire to ensure its swift publication as an intention to make the book interactive. “Adding color would add more time for its creation, and I really wanted to put Wash Your Paws out as quickly as possible,” Bruel said. “Around the time I was writing the story and laying out the pages, it occurred to me that keeping the book black and white so the pictures could be colored in would make it all the more useful as an activity.”
To make the book available so quickly, a team of editors, designers, and publicists at Macmillan shepherded his page proofs from design to completion. Their support, Bruel said, was a highlight of the project. “Bear in mind that they, like everyone else, had all of the stress that I had of having to suddenly work remotely while contending with their own deadlines, and then without warning, I dropped this project in their laps,” he said. “But none of them flinched a bit. I am so lucky to be able to work with these amazing people.”
Like many fellow authors, sheltering-in-place has had a negative impact on Bruel’s creative output, but Wash Your Paws was an exception. “This book wasn’t an assignment so much as a mission,” he said. “I was additionally bolstered by the idea that there were kids out there who suddenly couldn’t access books like they used to. They couldn’t go to school. They couldn’t go to the library. They couldn’t go to stores, and even if they could the idea of spending money on a book might not be realistic. Maybe it’s corny, but I was motivated by the idea of a kid out there stuck at home who might be excited, if only for a moment, by being able to download a brand-new, free book, short though it may be, to keep for themselves.”