When I started this new blog post series, I did it with the idea of sharing the WHY I created my stories, but then I thought…why not share OTHER authors STORY BEHIND “THEIR” STORY? I put the call out and soon I had tons of authors who wanted to share their backstories with my readers. This week children’s book author, Mike Allegra, is sharing the WHY he wrote his book, “. Take it away, Mike…
Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles by Mike Allegra
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m nuts about rodents. I just love ‘em. Pound for pound they have the biggest personalities in the animal kingdom. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve kept them as pets. I’ve cared for gerbils, rats, and the world’s most ornery guinea pig. I’ve babysat hamsters. And, if I catch wild mice in my house during the winter months, I’ll keep them safe, happy, and well fed until I can release them in the spring. All the rodents in my care have shown themselves to be clean, clever, playful, and affectionate. And they’re cute, of course. You can’t forget the cuteness. Just look at those little buggers! Aww! Am I right? Of course, I am. I have never been more right about anything in my entire life.
Once I started to write for children, I looked for ways to include rodents in my stories. I got the ball rolling with my second picture book, Everybody’s Favorite Book, which had a supporting character named Snuggy, a guinea pig the size of a mastodon. A mouse was the main character of my third book, Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist. When the time arrived to write my fourth
picture book, the only rule I had was that I wanted it to feature another rodent. I had first heard about capybaras when I was six. I read about them in a picture book and was immediately captivated. Up to that point, I had assumed that all rodents could fit in the palm of your hand, but adult capys can weigh in at over 100 pounds! I was never a huge dog person, but a rodent the size of a dog? It was almost too wonderful to contemplate.
I was kicking around ideas for my fourth book in 2018. This was around the time the internet had begun to discover capybaras in general and capybaras’ propensity for cuddling in particular. Capybaras, the web declared with a blissful sigh, were the Zen Buddhists of nature. They were chill. They were easygoing. As long as you didn’t threaten them with harm, they would put away
their razor-sharp incisors and let you snuggle up. Capybaras are the ultimate pack animal. They like to cuddle their own kind, of course, but they’re also happy with interspecies snorgling. Even the most casual internet searches show capys chilling with birds, turtles, lizards, dogs, cats, rats, guinea pigs, goats, and about a zillion other things. There is even a photo of a capybara hanging out with a freaking caiman! A capy can’t get much chiller than that.
That settled it for me. A capybara would be my next rodent protagonist. And my capy was gonna cuddle.
It took me a little while to discover my capybara’s personality. In my early drafts, the character had a Big Lebowski vibe—something I was definitely not going for. But after a little trial and error, I struck gold when I made my capy female and modeled her after Mrs. Schmidt, my second-grade teacher. Mrs. Schmidt was one of the kindest, most accepting people I had eve met. She was a calm presence in what could’ve easily been a chaotic classroom full of emotional and impulsive children. More importantly, her calmness was contagious. Once my capybara became more Schmidt-like, everything clicked into place. Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles’ story was simple and remained largely unchanged from my early drafts. In a tempestuous section rainforest, animals fight and argue without pause until they are distracted by an odd sight, a capybara emerging from the Amazon River. The capy plops her fuzzy butt on the shore, makes herself comfy, and invites each animal to cuddle. There’s resistance, of course. Cuddling is a strange activity for such grouchy beasts. But, one by one, the animals forget their squabbles as they are gently persuaded to cuddle in whatever way make them comfortable. Some want full on snuggles. Others prefer a more hands off approach. The capybara is cool either way, as long as everyone is happy. The happiness of others makes the capy happy. And when a capy is happy, her fur floofs!
When it comes to my writing, I can be very self-critical, so I surprised myself with just how delighted I was with the finished Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles manuscript. My agent, however, needed some convincing. “Where’s the capybara’s character arc?” she asked. “How does she grow? What lessons does she learn?”
“She has no arc!” I replied in triumph. “My capybara learns nothing! She doesn’t have to learn anything, because she is a capybara and capybaras have everything figured out!” My larger point was that while my capybara doesn’t learn anything, all the other animals do. They learn how to calm down and chill out and stop being so ding dang hostile all the time. It’s a good lesson in this noisy era where everyone is trying to out-shout everyone else. We should take a page from the capybaras’ playbook; I think humanity could learn a lot from their floofy, inclusive ways.
The rainforest roars with squeaks and squawks, alive with a rumpus of animal noises. Can any creature get a moment of rest and calm amidst this horrible hubbub? Not until…the blurbly blowing of bubbles, the fwippa fwip of flickering ears, and the shookita shimmy of a shaking booty bottom announce the arrival of the largest, friendliest rodent around (which really exists in the wild) who calls for something new: cuddles!
But, the animals wonder, can cuddles de-harden a shell? Don’t they look weird? Will that closeness feel uncomfortable? Capy has gentle answers to all these questions, helping every cuddler feel safe and happy. Because when others feel happy, the capy feels happy too. And when capy is happy, she floofs!
Curl up with this book and learn that no matter how you do it, everyone can appreciate a cuddle.
Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleepy-Happy-Capy-Cuddles-Allegra/dp/1645675599/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1EJ8LMWZB3G7P&keywords=sleepy+happy+capy+cuddles&qid=1665965461&qu=eyJxc2MiOiIwLjY0IiwicXNhIjoiMC40MSIsInFzcCI6IjAuMDAifQ%3D%3D&sprefix=sleepy+happy+capy+cuddles%2Caps%2C97&sr=8-2
Mike Allegra is the author of 17 books for children including the picture books Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles (Page Street, 2022), Scampers Thinks like a Scientist (Dawn, 2019), Everybody’s Favorite Book (Macmillan, 2018), and Sarah Gives Thanks (Albert Whitman and Company, 2012). He also wrote the chapter book series Kimmie Tuttle (Abdo Books, 2021) and Prince Not- So Charming (Macmillan, 2018-19; pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). Scampers was the winner of Learning Magazine’s 2020 Teacher’s Choice Award and was selected for inclusion in the Literati Kids subscription box. His story, “Harold’s Hat,” was the winner of the 2014 Highlights fiction contest and was published in the July 2015 issue.
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