Crafty is one word with many meanings, yet I can always apply it somehow to the wonderful books written by Maria Gianferrari. Penny, the young heroine starring in Maria’s Penny & Jelly series, is very crafty in the artistic sense. She manipulates yarn, clay, paper, paint, tape, even shaving cream to find her talent or create an imitation Jelly dog. The determined mother in Coyote Moon is a crafty hunter, scouring her suburban neighborhood for a meal to give her hungry pups.

In Maria’s newest book, Officer Katz and Houndini, we meet not one but two crafty characters. Houndini is an illusionary performer extraordinaire, escaping from handcuffs, stockades, ropes and boxes with ease. The crowd ooh’s and aah’s as he tips his stovepipe hat and bows modestly. But he’s a prankster as well, annually defacing the official portrait of the town’s feline founder with a large swooping Houndini-like mustache. The cocky dog’s disrespect bugs crafty Officer Katz to no end, inspiring him to invent elaborate contraptions to catch Houndini once and for all.

Q: Officer Katz is a careful, methodical inventor. He’s drawn fancy blueprints before building each of his clever contraptions. When it comes to writing picture books, are you are plotter that carefully outlines how your story will begin and end, or a pantser that goes with the flow of the story?

I’m not really either—I’m somewhat in the middle. Because of the research involved, I tend to do more plotting and outlining with my nonfiction picture books, mostly because there are cool animal facts that I try to weave into the narrative.

For fiction, I don’t usually outline to get started with a draft, though I may have a vague ending in mind—some kind of general arc. Other times I have a clearer idea of the ending, and work out the best way to get there though the drafting process. I often have to let things marinate quite a bit, thinking both consciously (and subconsciously) before I dive in. So it’s a bit of both I guess.

Q: Houndini has practiced and polished his elusionary arts to perfection, dazzling the audience with his incredible feats. What writerly arts do you practice regularly that hone your skills to produce picture book perfection?

The magical arts of reading and revising. I read and re-read tons of picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, all kinds of genres, studying them for voice, use of white space, emotional arcs, especially the ones that make me cry.

And of course revision—re-envisioning the story so that all of these elements come together. Luckily I have wonderful critique partners to help me with this.

Q: Maria, there’s no question that you have “crafty” talent with words and picture books. Are you also “crafty” with artful activities that inspire your work? (aka sewing, sculpting, welding, leather tooling :D) 

Not really, though I am a crazy plant lady and have a “green thumb.” I don’t have a much of a garden, but I have a lot of potted flowers on our deck. Here are two of my favorites.

catplanter feeder-flowers








And here’s a photo of an avocado plant that I grew from seed. It’s about a year old.


From the publisher’s website:  Officer Katz is looking forward to a nice retirement until his arch-nemesis, Houndini, reappears one final time to challenge Katz to a showdown. If Katz manages to catch Houndini after three tries, Houndini will stay out of Kitty City forever. But if Houndini manages to escape, the town will be renamed…Houndiniville. And Katz isn’t about to let his town go to the dogs.

For our final act, we’re pleased to offer one dazzling, crafty copy of Officer Katz and Houndini.  No need to be blindfolded or come up on stage. Just leave a comment – maybe tell us what magic act you’d like to perform? – to be entered in the drawing. (Sorry – U.S. residents only) In  2 weeks you’ll learn whether this was your lucky day!

Maria Gianferrari Courtesy Monogram Arts

Maria Gianferrari
Courtesy Monogram Arts

Hot diggety dog! Maria Gianferrari’s a lucky dog—she gets to write stories about cats and dogs, and when she’s dog-tired, she can catnap in her office. Maria lives in northern Virginia with her cat’s meow of a family: her scientist husband, artist daughter, and top dog, Becca. She is the author of the Penny & Jelly books as well as Coyote Moon and the forthcoming Hello Goodbye Dog. To learn more about Maria, please visit her website at, Facebook or Instagram.


Monday, Oct. 17th: Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) 3 GIVEAWAYS: a query pass from Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary; picture book critique from me, and a copy of Officer Katz & Houndini!!

Tuesday, Oct. 18th:                 Librarian’s Quest

Wednesday, Oct. 19th:           Bildebok

Thursday, Oct. 20th:               Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

Friday, Oct. 21st:                     Pragmaticmom +  book giveaway

Monday, Oct. 24th:                 Homemade City

Tuesday, Oct. 25th:                 ReFoReMo THINK QUICK  with Carrie Charley Brown

Update:  Congratulations ROSI HOLLINBECK!
You are the lucky winner of the Officer Katz and Houndini giveaway.
We will contact you for information on where to send your book!


About Cathy Ballou Mealey

Children's book author, repped by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, alumna, autism advocate, book reviewer. Reach me via email at or Twitter @catballoumealey
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26 Responses to Crafty Characters: OFFICER KATZ and HOUNDINI +GIVEAWAY

  1. This book is getting some blog love this week. It’s very cute and should do well. Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. mariagianferrari says:

    You’re pretty crafty at writing blog posts, Cathy!! Thank you so much for featuring Officer Katz & Houndini today!

    Maria ❤ ❤ 🙂

  3. kathalsey says:

    Hot diggity dog, the ultimate match-up between cats and dogs. I am following you around Maria, to nab a book.

  4. Andrea Wang says:

    Thanks for a well-crafted interesting interview, Cathy and Maria! I love the pun-filled bio, too! 🙂

  5. I love word play and this book is so much fun! Congrats on your publishing success. You are very talented. I am sadly without magic, I only have a few “magical” pieces of corn left in my pocket…

  6. Darshana says:

    You have a great way with questions Cathy! Loved learning more about Maria.

  7. Great post! Thanks, Cathy and Maria! I actually have a cat/dog thing going on in real life! We’ve just adopted a sweet little stray cat and recently introduced her to our lab. Things are going well, so far! I’ll keep an eye out for katz-traptions and magician’s hats! 😉

    Congratulations, Maria!!

  8. mariagianferrari says:

    Thanks, Sheri!! Allie looks like such a sweet cat and a nice addition to your family! She can keep Captain company during the day 🙂

  9. mariagianferrari says:

    Congrats, Rosi!! And thank you again, Cathy <3!!

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