Friday, November 1, 2019

Book Nook: Ninja Cat - Whiskers of Choice

My daughter loves ninjas, so I thought it would be fun to review Ninja Cat: Whiskers of Choice. This graphic novel follows Lando, a mischievous cat who lives in the big city and finds himself in financial trouble, along with his animal friends.

The book manages to cover a lot of topics - finances, bullying, peer pressure, absentee parents, and more. Throughout, it's filled with easy-to-follow dialogue and crazy escapades to keep the story moving. It's in black and white, so kids can feel free to add their own color to it, and is geared for kids 8-12 (the author worked with his 10-year-old son to make it engaging for kids).

I had a chance to interview the author to learn more.

Why did you write this book?
To give my son a confidence boost and spend time being creative together. The content of the book provides a vehicle to introduce my son to important subjects I’ve never read about in illustrated kid books. Most popular, fun kid books  (the NY Times best-sellers) are mainly about goofy hijinks and basic concepts. While entertaining, they don’t come close to real life situations that help convey useful messages or help kids understand why reading helps life. A book can be a powerful tool to introduce rich life experiences, but those books are usually super serious and not very exciting. This can be a tough sell to a modern kid whose attention is being relentlessly distracted by screen time.

My son responds best to comic book novels, graphic novels for kids. I like them because there’s lots of words but there’s nothing to really talk about after my kid finishes reading Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Not much, anyway. He’s reading, sure, but I’d like to take it further regarding content while keeping the humor, fun and action of kid comics. Some are better than others, for sure, but by and large they lack substance. So we worked on Ninja Cat together, to keep it authentic, stamped with approval by a kid in all ways from content to cartoon creation. Lastly, I wrote this book to show my son that doing something exciting like publishing a book is possible, even for a kid.

How does your background affect what themes you include in your books?
My background is full of variety, diversity and lots of experiences in a short amount of time. I studied psychology, criminology, law, statistics, and social and political subjects to make sense of the life I had lived, then continued to work with professionals in those fields as my career-focus evolved from social work, law and politics to finance. During my recovery from wild days of young adulthood on the West Coast I moved to the Mid-West, met people from the other side of the tracks and learned about rural America in a way that opened my eyes. I want to use this mindfulness to speak on topics I feel like are fundamental to being happy and well, at least those I want my kid to know about in 2019 and beyond so he can really live his best life. Unfortunately, in the Midwest people prefer to not-talk so Ninja Cat nudges knowing adults with conversation nods should they wish to engage further and elaborate to their kids about the positive moral code Lando, the main character, tries to live by.

What was it like to write a book with your child?
So much fun! I challenged him to stretch his ability to focus on a really tough long-term project and he just amazed me more every day. It was also a great way to tie things together in real-life with the more subtle lessons of Ninja Cat. I could reference a character or moment in the book and how real life situations exist where we need to make tough choices about friends, money, diet, whatever. Because he helped develop the story those positive messages have been reinforced from book to life and life to book, so that’s been really cool to see a bonding project turn into a learning tool and conversation piece.

Otherwise, at what point was I really going to talk about interest rates or due process of law? And my son loves to draw, so we were able to spend time together sketching our ideas for characters in the book, too, while talking out the story. We are currently working on Ninja Cat 2, which has been a blast so far. The Ninja Cat books will continue to evolve in both subject matter and drawing style. The next book will be more of a typical graphic novel-looking format and the content will include slightly more mature themes. But beyond that, writing a book with my child has really improved his self-esteem and belief in himself that he really can do great things in life with the right attitude and drive, and that’s the best part.

Author Justin Donner is a fully licensed financial agent (broker/dealer and investment advisor), criminologist, parent and author of the recovery memoir, I Just Woke Up Dead.

He struggled with bipolar disorder and substance abuse before finding sobriety in 2012. He has a Master's Degree in Criminology, Law and Society from the University of California, Irvine, and a BS in Political Science and Psychology from North Dakota State University.

Donner previously worked as a criminologist/statistician for the Fargo Police Department before relocating to Minnetonka where he joined a Fortune 250 investment firm.  Donner's unique experiences (from both sides of the socioeconomic and geographic divide) allow depth in storytelling with an ease uncommon for authors of children's books.

To learn more, please follow Donner on twitter at NinjaCatBook or on Instagram at @ninjacatbook.

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