Mar 15, 2023

Interview with Cathy Stefanec Ogren: PEW! A Nonfiction Winner!



Happy "Book Birthday" to 


If you missed my review and recommendation of this nonfiction picture book for MANY ages, please consider taking a look and then getting your hands on the book. Author Cathy Stefanec Ogren agreed to answer some questions for us. I am excited to share her responses with readers on this special celebration day! As you'll see, this post will not grow stinky with age, as the wheel of celebration CHEESE eventually did!

SB: Cathy, welcome and thank you. As you know, I am a fan of your new picture book and I'm excited to congratulate you today.

CSO: It’s a pleasure to be here with you, Sandy. I’ve been looking forward to our interview. 


SB: I'm delighted to have you join us, and also to see that your book has been getting some well-deserved attention by reviewers and interviewers. Kirkus review is HERE.

Let's get started, Cathy. How in the world did you first become aware of this remarkable “slice” of history? Can you share that moment and how it led to the creation of your manuscript?


CSO: Ideas are floating around everywhere. A writer needs to be aware when a unique one presents itself and grab hold. The idea for this book came from a program on the history channel. I’m a cheese lover. When I heard the cheese word mentioned, it was like being given a basket of gourmet cheeses. That program had my undivided attention. The idea of a 1,400-pound cheese given to the president was something I could sink my teeth into.


SB: What a superb example of being curious about the world, knowing your own interests, and recognizing kid-friendly topics! This is my Wisconsinite must-ask question: I was intrigued by your careful depiction of the cheese-making process, and wondered if you had prior experience with that process before preparing this manuscript? Have you tried making cheese yourself? Visit any cheese-making factories? 


CSO: My editor and I had many discussions about the cheesemaking process to make sure Lesley Breen, the illustrator, was accurate in her depictions. I researched cheesemaking in the 1800s and found articles that referred to Thomas Meacham’s process, but they didn’t go into much detail. I also found a video on YouTube called Cheesemaking in the Early 19th Century. That was very helpful.  

SB: I found one that was VERY impressive with your lead and linked it HERE for curious readers!

CSO: As far as experiencing the cheesemaking process, my husband and I went to a cheese farm in Vermont, hoping to see the process from cows’ milk to a delicious cheese. Unfortunately, the cheese farm gets its cheese from farmer-owned cooperative creameries. The cheese is then aged and smoked at the farm. We were disappointed we didn’t see the process, but we did enjoy our yummy cheese purchase. 


Since my book is all about a colossal wheel of cheese, I thought I should get a hands-on feel for cheesemaking. I found an easy recipe that I added to my to-do list – it’s still waiting for me to do.


SB:  What a dilemma for a busy person... read, write, or make cheese? You'll get to it!

I love the selections you made for inclusion in the story and the back matter, but I’d bet my last cheddar wedge that there were countless golden morsels that had to be left on the writing room floor. What do you plan to do with those (other than leaving them as a treat for nearby mice). Any chance you have one or more for readers here to savor?


CSO: I certainly do have one or two leftover goodies. 


Below is a fact that I would have loved to work into the story, but I didn’t think it was age appropriate.


After Thomas Meacham presented the president with the enormous cheese, as a thank you, the president gave Meacham half a dozen bottles of choice wine. Wine and cheese – a perfect pairing! 

Other Cheesy Facts left on my writing room floor.


Cheese made from donkey milk is the world’s most expensive cheese. Hee-haw, haw, haw!


This one is for you, Sandy.

Milwaukee, WI uses leftover waste from Mozzarella cheese on icy roads. The high salt content helps melt the ice.

SB: I love that! I knew that the streets are treated with a briny mix to reduce use of salt,  and I know that there are (delicious) cheeses produced locally, but had never put the two together! Bring on the snow, with some marina and pepperoni!

But enough of my easily distracted attention. Back to questions:  I’ve learned from other nonfiction picture book writers that they often discover potential new stories while doing research for their current project. Did that happen to you?


CSO: Although I found many interesting facts and information while researching, nothing wowed me enough to believe there was another unique idea to pursue. 


SB: I understand that with so many great ideas out there it takes something really special to devote precious time and attention to new tangents. Are you free to share any news about other manuscripts in the works? If so, we’d love to get an inside scoop! 


CSO: I’m excited to announce that I have a new picture book coming out in the fall of 2024 from Sleeping Bear Press. LITTLE RED CHAIR is about a special relationship between a young girl and a little red chair. Alexandra Thompson is the illustrator. She has the perfect vision for my book. In the meantime, I'm working on revising a manuscript that is close to my heart that I hope makes it into print someday.  


SB:   How exciting! There are several other books with that title, so I'll make it a point to especially watch for yours. The story sounds totally heartfelt. I'm celebrating for you on this one, and rooting for you on your revision project and any others that are underway. 


CSO: I thoroughly enjoyed doing this interview, Sandy, and I thank you for your fabulous review of PEW! 


SB: I enjoyed it, too, and thank you, Cathy, for sharing your book birthday with your responses here. Also, for a book that is historic, entertaining, and has kid-appeal across many ages. I hope you'll reach out to keep us posted as your new titles approach release dates. 

Cathy Stefanec Ogren

Readers: To learn more about Cathy, subscribe to her blog, and check out other works on her website, try these sources:


Twitter: @CathySOgren 

Facebook: cathy.ogren


LinkedIn: Cathy Stefanec Ogren 


Blog: Humor Me 

1 comment:

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.