Meet the Author! A conversation with Diana Tuorto, author of “Ms. Alberta: Feline Barn Manager”

Meet the Author! A conversation with Diana Tuorto, author of “Ms. Alberta: Feline Barn Manager” 1024 575 Reader Views Kids

Ms. Alberta: Feline Barn Manager

Diana Tuorto
Independently published (2023)
ISBN: 979-8865090182

Diana Tuorto is a Buffalo, NY-based children’s author. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English Writing and History, Diana is also an active animal rescue volunteer and serves as Vice President of a small non-profit horse rescue. She shares a small farm with her husband, horses, and cats. 

Diana started writing her first children’s novel at the age of 12. Most of her books are written from a horse’s point of view. Diana has a total of six books: three middle grade novels, two picture books and one easy reader, all featuring a horse or cat as a main character.

Hi Diana, Welcome to Reader Views Kids! What is Ms. Alberta: Feline Barn Manager about?

The book is based on a true story of a feral barn cat who wants to live with her special human “Mama.” The only problem is she’s afraid to give up her outdoor life and become a house cat, especially when a scary, barking dog gets in her way.

What was the real-life inspiration behind the book and how closely does it mirror the true story?

I wrote the book as a tribute to my late former barn cat (turned house cat), Ms. Fat Albert (no “a” on the end in real life—she was named for the cartoon character in the 1980s). She lived in our barn for nearly five years until she decided it was time to “retire” and walked right into a cat carrier I left outside. The relationship with the dog was more fiction as Ms. F. Albert only saw the real Iggy a couple of times outside, but she was terrified of him. Once she became a house cat, though, she and Iggy became best friends and would cuddle on the couch all the time.

Ms. Alberta’s character is torn between two worlds. How did you approach writing about her internal conflict, and what does it represent for readers?

I wanted to convey that new experiences, people or places can be scary (for humans and animals), but by working to overcome your fear of them, good things can and will happen.

What prompted you to focus on themes of fear, trust and overcoming obstacles, and how are they particularly relevant for the intended age group of 4-8 years?

Fear was an issue in real life with my cat—she was feral and therefore afraid of humans at first. I thought by telling her story it might be helpful for young children. I was very shy as a child, so that’s something I related to and often see in young children I’m around. Change can be scary.

How do you think children’s books can help kids understand complex emotions and learn about friendship, even when relationships start off as challenging?

I think it’s always helpful to learn from someone else’s experience. I wanted the story to also teach children that just because someone looks or acts differently than you, there’s always something to find in common, if you give the other person/being a chance. But taking that chance, whether you’re a child or an animal, can be frightening or make you uneasy. It’s all about that first step.

How do you balance creating a narrative that is engaging for children while also conveying deeper emotional and life lessons?

If I have, I’m glad! Since I used to write primarily middle grade novels, it’s taken some time to get use to having less action and conflict in my writing. In the storytimes I’ve done so far with the Ms. Alberta book, the children were (surprisingly) engaged throughout the story. I tried to keep it simple while showing the challenges Ms. Alberta had, both in her head and in front of her, along the way.

What challenges did you face in portraying the emotions and thoughts of animal characters in a way that resonates with both young readers and adults?

I’ve always found it much easier to empathize with animals and share their stories. Animals are much less complex than people; they have basic needs and wants. Animals love unconditionally and can break down boundaries, especially for children.

I remember being maybe 14 and watching an interview with author Anne Rice. She said, “My books are not just about vampires, they are also about us.” That’s how I feel when writing books from the point of view of animal protagonists.

Tell us about your collaboration with illustrator Ava Bucci? How did her illustrations enhance the storytelling and what was it like working together to bring your story to life?

A shop in Newfane, NY called Artisan Alley has been generous enough to host me for book signings/readings several times. I had mentioned to the shop owner, Rhonda Daigler, that I needed an illustrator for my new picture book, and she showed me a beautiful painting of a pig by Ava. Ava is one of Rhonda’s art students and goes to a local high school. She did test paintings of the cat and dog and I asked her to illustrate the book. Since Ava created paintings for each spread, the process took about a year, but it was well worth it! Ava is a very talented painter and crochet artist.  

How has your involvement in horse rescue and your experiences with animals shaped the characters and themes in your book?

I like to give animals a voice since they can’t tell their own stories. I’ve been active with horse and other animal rescues since I was a teenager. In this book, I wanted to tell a story of a feral cat who made the choice to become an indoor cat. In some of my other books, I tell stories of horses who were neglected or overcame hard circumstances, like many of the horses I’ve worked with at rescues.

Are there any personal experiences or observations from your life that directly influenced the lessons embedded in the story?

Definitely my shyness as a child comes out in this book, and how important it was to come out of my comfort zone.

Given your extensive background in writing children’s books, how has the process of creating Ms. Alberta: Feline Barn Manager differed from your previous works?

I had the story in my head for several months, but the actual process of writing the first draft only took me an hour, where my middle grade novels took months if not years (I have three middle grade and one easy reader, in addition to another picture book). That said, there was more pressure to refine it and edit because it’s based on a true story. I also wanted to pay tribute to my late cat and do her justice.

How does the theme of the joy and enrichment that animals bring to our lives affect young readers’ understanding of human-animal relationships?

I think animals naturally bring us a lot of joy, but especially children as they are finding their own voice. Animals typically are trusting and playful like children, and they also find joy in simple pleasures.

What message do you hope both children and adult readers take away from Ms. Alberta’s journey?

I hope readers will try to find things in common with people who are different than they are and give them that chance. I also hope readers learn it’s okay to be scared when you are trying new things or going through a chance like moving, or going to a new school. And of course, I hope readers take away how important it is to be kind to animals!

What has been the most memorable feedback you’ve received from young readers or their parents about Ms. Alberta: Feline Barn Manager?

A good friend and neighbor told me her children wanted to be read the book daily! A few others have told me they or their children have re-read the book a few times. Given the book has only been out a few months, that’s incredible to me. I would assume most people just read a picture book to their child once and discard it, but it’s great to hear that it’s got more longevity than that.

Looking back on the journey of writing and publishing this book, what has been the most rewarding aspect for you personally?

It was rewarding to create a book for my late cat and see Ava’s beautiful paintings on the page with the story. I never thought of myself as a picture book author, so having two I’m really proud of has been a great experience.

In your opinion, how important is children’s literature in shaping young minds, particularly in their formative years?

Very important! I think there’s a lot of important life lessons children learn from books they read at that age; I know I did.

What’s next for you? Are there plans for more stories about Ms. Alberta or other characters from the book or do you have any other projects to tell us about?

Not at this time, but you never know. I always think I’m never going to write another book again, then I get an idea or a specific request and the process starts all over again. It’s hard when you work full-time and volunteer as well, but when you get that idea, you have to follow through with it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add today?

Really appreciate your time! I hope readers enjoy the story. I always appreciate any and all feedback and reviews.

Connect with Diana Tuorto!

My website is https://horsebooksforkids.com/.
You can find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dtuorto/ 
and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/lunar_aradia

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