'Milo, My Stray Cat' a pet project for Westport author
Teenage angst, a case of dyslexia and a curious cat were the catalysts that connected for former creative director and family therapist, leading her to collaborate on a new book chiefly designed to help children learn to read.
In a recent interview, Westport resident Gayle Gleckler, co-author and illustrator of "Milo, My Stray Cat," spoke about the inspiration for the book, her background and the target audience.
"My son Zac was going through some difficult teenage twists and turns, and we were introduced to Dr. Donald Cohen, a family therapist," said Gleckler. While Cohen was knowledgeable and helpful, the doctor's curious gray cat Milo, an adopted stray, was as attentive and accommodating. The cat also was a comforting reminder of Zac and Gayle's own adopted cats -- Steamboat, Spot and Mash.
"I noticed an adult poem on Don's wall that he had written, titled `My Stray Cat,' " said Gleckler. "He said he always wanted to develop it into a children's book. I said I would love to co-create it with him, and adapted it. My son is dyslexic and, not only did I love reading him children's books when he was young, I thought this could be a useful tool to help him learn to read."
Gleckler suggested a type style that would be graphically descriptive -- the word "fluffy" would actually look fluffy, the word "falling" would be cascading down, the word "eyes" would have eyeballs. By attaching images, she figured that they would help children remember the words and learn to read faster.
The plotline of the story is Milo gets lost after he becomes a beloved pet to 6-year-old Donny, who realizes that if you really love a pet (or person), you need to let them go and roam free. Gleckler said the book's target audience is ages 4 to 104.
Adoption is a definite theme of the book; Gleckler herself was adopted. "We all feel lost at times and want to be adopted," she said.
Gleckler said the book was years in development -- a labor of love -- and that Zac saw the process and the layouts and pages as they were scattered about her house. "It was probably very educational for him and he even made some creative suggestions along the way."
The book includes a CD featuring an original "Milo, My Stray Cat" song and a complete reading of the book by Gleckler and Cohen. Their voices represent both a mother and father reading, which can be particularly comforting to a child of separated parents.
Gleckler brings an advertising and design background to the table, which she said has been helpful in developing the book. She is a former art director at New York's Young & Rubicam, former EVP/creative director at Foote Cone & Belding, owner of Gleckler & Partners and is now chief executive officer her own North Salem, N.Y.-based marketing firm, The Whole Enchilada. Her experience allowed her to not only adapt the book's text but illustrate it.
Admittedly, though, the project still is new territory for her. "I've been used to big budgets in the agency world. This is very different, with a lot of hands-on marketing. I've got copies of `Milo' in the back of the car and have been going to book signings at remote places. But I believe the book will be an instrumental teaching tool."
"Milo, My Stray Cat" can be purchased at www.atlasbooks.com, www.amazon.com and www.memorymanpress.com. A portion of book sales will benefit the Reidel and Cody Fund for Veterinary Oncology and Hematology Center in Norwalk.