We’re excited to have Dori Hillestad Butler(one of our Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Readers members) on here today to talk about her new release.
Hi, Dori!! Happy to have you here! Let’s start with learning a bit more about you, and then we’ll talk more about King & Kayla and the Case of the Cat Hunt.
Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of more than 60 books for young readers including the two-time Geisel Honor award winning King & Kayla series, the Edgar award winning Buddy Files series, the Treasure Troop series, the Dear Beast series and the Haunted Library series. Her books have appeared on ALSC Notable, Bank Street College Best Books of the Year, Junior Library Guild, CCBC Choice, Booklist Editor’s Choice and more than 20 state award lists. She loves visiting schools and libraries all over the country, either in person or virtually, and is eager to share her love of story with readers and writers of all ages. She grew up in southern Minnesota, spent 19 years in Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area.
Did you have any childhood dreams for when you became an adult? If so, did they come true?
Yes, I did. And yes, that dream came true. I dreamed of becoming an author.
What advice would you give to your eight-year-old self?
Probably the same thing I say to other eight-year-olds. 1) Read something every day. 2) Write something every day. 3) And never, ever give up on your dream!
Did you love to read as a child? Can you tell us some favorite books?
Yes, very much! I loved the Betsy-Tacy books because they were friendship stories set very near to where I lived. I was also a fan of the Boxcar Children. Those kids were so resourceful, and I was jealous of their boxcar.
What was an early experience where you learned that written language had power?
That’s a good question. An interesting question. Let me think…I wrote to my state senator when I was eight or nine. Back then you could still smoke inside public buildings and I didn’t like that. We’d talked about the harmful effects of cigarette smoke in school and being around cigarette smoke gave me a headache. So, I wrote to my senator and told him I thought there should be a law banning cigarette smoke in public buildings. I don’t take credit for the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, which took effect not long after I wrote that letter. But Tom Hagedorn wrote back to me! And I was pretty shocked that he did. He was a busy grownup and I was just a kid. That experience certainly taught me that written language had power.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’m not sure there was single moment when I decided that, but I remember cuddling with my grandmother while she read to me. I kept two books at her house: A Pony for the Winter and A Duck for Keeps. Both by Helen Kay. I loved those books, and I still have them. And I remember telling her I wanted to write books just like these!
Have you had any careers besides writing?
Nope! I feel pretty lucky that I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do.
Why do you write?
I want to turn non-readers into readers!
It’s always nice to get to know a little about an author’s personality. So we asked Dori to answer a few fun questions about her writing habits.
What do you drink while writing?
Coffee. Tea. And water.
Do you have any special things around your desk that help inspire you when you write?
I have some award certificates on the wall above my monitor. I also have a little Yoda figure with a light saber a little “bluebird of happiness” on my desk. That little bird is only about the size of my thumbnail. I saw a whole bin of them in a little novelty store when I was visiting my mother-in-law in Florida, and the sign on the bin claimed they were “little bluebirds of happiness.” I decided I needed one. And it sits on my desk to remind me that being a writer makes me happy. Sometimes I need that reminder—especially if it’s taken me all day to write two sentences.
And now that we know about more about Dori let’s find out about more about her book, King & Kayla and the Case of the Cat Hunt.
About the book:
In this latest book in the Geisel Honor award-winning series, our intrepid human-and-dog detective duo have another mystery to solve: how did Raj’s cat escape from a locked house?
King and Kayla have a new case and a new friend. King LOVES new friends. They’re his favorite!
Raj needs our beloved detectives to help him find his cat. Blue was in the house when Raj left for school but now he’s gone. Blue didn’t come for dinner or breakfast. (King can’t imagine missing a meal.) Blue never goes outside and he never had the chance to escape. Where did he go?
When Raj describes Blue, he sounds very familiar. Could Blue be Cat with No Name?
What inspired you to create this story?
Ha! My neighbor Dave and his cat, Blue. I met Dave the day after we moved into our townhouse. He’d lost his cat, so he was going door to door looking for him. He’d left the door to his rooftop patio open and thought maybe someone else had done the same thing, and maybe his very shy cat was hiding in one of our connected homes. The movers had indeed left our roof door open when they put our patio furniture up there, but I told Dave there was no way Blue could be in our house. I introduced him to our 103-pound dog, Mouse, and assured him that if there was a cat in the house, we would know about it.
But Mouse was trying to tell us something. Every time we took him outside, he veered toward my husband’s closed office door rather than the outside door. We didn’t think anything of it when he barked and scratched at that door; he hated closed doors.
Two days after we’d met Dave, Mouse finally got into that room. He went right to the futon and started pawing at the boxes underneath. We moved the boxes and guess what we found. Yup. We found Blue. I felt bad that we hadn’t looked harder when Dave had first stopped by, but I think I made up for it by immortalizing his cat.
Did you base your characters on anyone you know?
See above. By the way, Dave was delighted that his cat inspired one of my books, and now whenever he sees me outside, he calls to me and says, “Hey, I have another story about Blue that you might not know.” That always makes me smile because I have another story about Blue that he doesn’t know.
Dave’s daughter stayed with Blue a couple years ago while he was away. And the cat got out again while she was there. Blue was gone for a couple of days and I helped her look for him. We did eventually find him. She made me promise not to ever tell him Blue had gotten out. And I haven’t. I sure hope he doesn’t read this blog—LOL!
Do you have any advice for readers on how to solve problems like your characters?
When King & Kayla are working on a new case, they make a list of things they know about that case. Then they make a list of things they don’t know. And then they make a plan to find out the things they don’t know, which leads to solving the case. I think that’s a good way to solve any problem.
What is your favorite part of the book?
The fact that it was inspired by real events
What do you hope readers will take away from the story?
That they can be problem solvers, too. Just like King and Kayla.
Please tell us about your other books.
Sure. I’ve got several early chapter series. Dear Beast is a 4-book epistolary [written in letters] series about a cat and dog who learn to share a boy who goes back and forth between them and his recently divorced parents. The Treasure Troop is a 4-book series full of codes and puzzles that readers can solve along with the three characters. The Haunted Library is a 10-book series about a ghost boy and a “solid” girl who work together to solve ghostly mysteries and try and find the ghost’s missing family. And the Buddy Files is a 7-book series, also about a school therapy dog who solves mysteries.
Can you share what you’re working on now?
Yes, I have a new chapter book series coming from Simon & Schuster called Ella Porter, Teleporter. You can probably guess what that’s about. J
I’m also collaborating on a middle grade novel with a friend. It’s a story about two cousins who are trying to heal a rift in their family, and that’ll be out from Holiday House in 2024.
And of course 2024 will also bring a new King & Kayla book, King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost.
I’m sure we’ll all be eagerly awaiting the next book once we finish King & Kayla and the Case of the Cat Hunt! Thanks so much for joining us, Dori. And we look forward to seeing what you come up with next.
Thanks for having me, Laurie!
So glad you were here! And thanks for answering all my questions! We loved learning about you and your newest book!