• Happy birthday Brian Wildsmith (ABC, Saint Francis), and Rafe Martin (The Rough-Face Girl).
  • It’s the birth date of Blair Lent (1930–2009) Tikki Tikki Tembo, Arkady Gaidar (1904-1941), Timur and His Gang, and the poet George Gordon Byron aka Lord Byron (1788–1824).
  • The Central Intelligence Group, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, was created on this day in 1946. Read The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy by Peter Earnest, illustrated by Suzanne Harper, in association with The International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C.
  • It’s also National Blonde Brownie Day. Blondies are basically brownies without the chocolate. Read The Triple Chocolate Brownie Genius by Deborah Sherman.

Today has been designated Ask Your Cat Questions Day. Most pet owners admit that they talk to their animals all the time.“How are you feeling today, Lancelot?” I just said to my puppy before sitting down.

However, what if you really wanted to communicate with a cat—beyond meaningless questions such as, “Why did you bring the dead vole into the house?” Is there a way to become a cat whisperer? In 2000, Jean Craighead George, a woman who knew how to communicate with all things wild, published How to Talk to Your Cat, with illustrations by Paul Meisel. Jean grew up in a family of naturalists. The Craigheads were always doing exciting things: tracking grizzly bears, banding bald eagles, or paddling kayaks down Western white waters. As Robert Kennedy Jr. said in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: “I thought the Craigheads might be the only family in America having more fun than the Kennedys.”

When Jean began to write her books in 1959 (My Side of the Mountain), she engaged in a type of research far outside the norm in children’s books. For Julie of the Wolves, she stayed with a wolf pack in Alaska and allowed a wolf to greet her—he put her face in his mouth. Talk about going the extra mile to get an accurate book. But such dedication was always typical for Jean Craighead George.

Jean begins How to Talk to Your Cat with an exploration of the typical cat personality: they are loners who don’t like company, even other cats, and are generally self-sufficient. Then she traces the origins of Felis Catus, the domestic house cat. “If you speak to your cat first, it probably won’t speak back. Cats initiate conversation.” Certainly, one of the funniest things about this book is the juxtaposition of real photos of Jean next to Paul Meisel’s illustrations of cats. Readers see Jean saying hello by rubbing the cat’s head with her own head. But the book is also filled with illustrations of cat postures, tails, and facial expressions along with great advise. If you want to read uninterrupted, put a brown paper bag on the floor for the animal to investigate; Jean says you will be free to enjoy your book for a long time.

I’m just grateful that for more than fifty years, Jean Craighead George explained the animal kingdom to children, writing fascinating books, and sharing her wisdom. Today would be a perfect day to let Jean Craighead George communicate with you—about cats or anything else that engaged her in her long writing career.

Here’s a page from How to Talk to Your Cat:


Originally posted January 22, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Cats
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for How to Talk to Your Cat


  1. I wish I had a cat to communicate with! Thank you for sharing this book and so much information about Jean Craighead George. I grew up frequently rereading My Side of the Mountain, but had zero knowledge of its author. What an impressive and fascinating person!

  2. Sam L. says:

    I think I will definitely take a look at this book. I have a cat, who I suspect only tolerates me because I provide the food. Perhaps there is a communication barrier.

    In elementary school, one of my teachers thought I wasn’t being properly challenged through reading, so she handed me Julie of the Wolves. I remember devouring it in a couple days. When I returned the book to my teacher, she smiled and said, “Would you like the next book?”

    I suppose this is a shout-out to educators. You influence your students more than you realize. Thank you.

  3. Colby Sharp says:

    I need to read this book. Excited to see a different side of J.C. George.

  4. Anita says:

    Colby: Yes, you really see Jean’s sense of humor here.

  5. G. Perry says:

    I do have to paw through the pages of this one, because, I met a cat once, who actually liked me.


    (Children and dogs like me..)


  6. Anita says:

    Gordon: And many of the readers of the Almanac like you, and your comments, as well.

  7. Carson says:

    I am not sure whether you are aware that Ms. Craighead George died this past year. Wendell Minor did a beautiful tribute, in case anyone is interested.

  8. Anita says:

    Carson: I agree that Wendell’s tribute was absolutely beautiful. I wrote this piece while Jean was alive and decided to keep the spirit of celebration in it, rather than talk about her death.

  9. Marty Bubb says:

    I too heard about the Craighead family’s outings from my parents. Worth looking up information from 40’s and 50’s. Also Jean’s book about her own family’s animal exploits, children loved my reading a chapter for a quick “break” from school work.

  10. How did I not know of this book? Thank you for remedying my errant ways.

  11. Diane V. says:

    Had no idea this book existed and I love cats. Huge fan of the adult book How to Tell if your cat is Plotting to Kill You and used to read Three Stores you Can Read to Your Cat to my cats when I was little (there is also one for dogs!) Will definitely look into this book.

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