Happy Birthday, Nick Bruel!
It’s Nick Bruel’s birthday! Author of the popular Bad Kitty series, Nick Bruel, born in 1978, has written and illustrated 35 books. And this elementary librarian is so thankful! Bad Kitty books are just the ticket for emerging readers looking to begin tackling chapter books. Bad Kitty entertains and informs and makes us laugh out loud.
My favorite, and go-to title for elementary book talks, is Bad Kitty Gets a Bath, published in 2008. Have you ever tried to give a cat a bath? Bruel relies on experience and exaggeration as Kitty’s owner’s Uncle Murray shows up to do the deed. A glossary defines new words the reader will encounter in the book; for example, this book includes a definition of the word plasma – you can imagine why that word turns up in this hilarious book. Bruel also includes a photo of his cat Esmerelda, looking as if she dares the author to try bathing her. The photo makes for a great writing prompt in the elementary library!
Imagine my surprise to discover that a few Bad Kitty books have shown up on challenged book lists over the years. Bad Kitty for President was challenged in a Nevada elementary school in 2016. In the book, Kitty decides to run for Neighborhood Cat Club president. Uncle Murray pops in to explain the election process, and his reaction to hearing about the cost of a campaign is, “A billion dollars! Holy %#@$.” The symbolic expletive was the cause of the challenge. In a response reported in the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy (Winter 2017, p. 36), Nick Bruel said he believes the symbols are vague and harmless.
This example sums up why challenging and banning books is so troublesome. When a children’s book is challenged, there is often a knee-jerk response to removing the book from library and classroom shelves. There is often a laser focus on a single word, a character, or a relationship, with complete disregard for the full picture of the book. It’s a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Bad Kitty for President, like the other books in the series, entertains young children while also helping them learn about their world. In Bad Kitty for President, young readers discover how elections work and the importance of registering to vote while laughing at Kitty’s shenanigans along the way.
This engaging book offers children a lesson about America’s democracy. In the book, Kitty identifies a problem in her neighborhood (too many stray cats) and ponders solutions (can she throw the strays in a volcano?). Kitty’s story functions as an analogy of how candidates get interested in running for office and proposing laws. Interesting anecdotes about White House cats are also found throughout the book.
It’s important for librarians to be aware of a book’s history of challenges. It serves as a reminder to make sure your district’s policy regarding challenges is up to date and that school administrators are aware of the procedure for addressing a book challenge.
I invite elementary librarians to share the Bad Kitty series with their young readers. The author has a fun website with activities, posters, and videos to engage library patrons of all ages.
I hope you have a happy birthday, Nick Bruel, and thank you for writing a children’s book that helps young readers and the librarians that serve them understand the importance of learning how our democracy proceeds. It’s absolutely purrfect.
Kellyanne Burbage lives in Charleston, SC, and recently retired after 27 years in education which included teaching science and serving as an elementary librarian. Kelly’s interests include connecting students to science through children’s literature and by promoting science careers. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys sharing current NASA events as a volunteer Solar System Ambassador. She is a NatGeo certified educator and frequently writes about science education and intellectual freedom in her local newspaper.