Ewing teacher, Jennifer Hoh, publishes children’s book called Brat Cat
By Lacey Ross
Scribbling a creative narrative from her cat’s point of view, Jennifer Hoh had no idea her story would one day become a published book.
A lifelong Ewing resident, and first-grade teacher at Lore Elementary, Hoh was taking a teaching course at Rider University when she wrote a story about her two cats as part of a class assignment. Five years later, her story, Brat Cat, is now a published children’s book, and Hoh can now add author to her resume.
“If you want to be better at teaching something, you have to immerse yourself in it totally and be able to do it yourself,” she said. This was the concept on her mind as Hoh began writing her story.
Growing up, she focused her talents much more on music and art than creative writing. As a teacher, however, Hoh often asks her students to write their own stories. The course she took insisted that teachers be able to write stories, just like their students. So, she tried it.
“I wrote from the viewpoint of my cat, Chewie,” the 29-year-old said. “Five years ago, we brought home a kitten named Petunia. As most cats are, he wasn’t very happy with her being around, so that’s kind of what the story is about, and at the end he gets along with her.”
A year after writing the story, Hoh, who has always loved art, decided to illustrate her story, just for the fun of it. Instead of just drawing, she used colored paper to create cutouts for each page. She said she imagined then how cool it would be to one day have it published.
“I always thought it would be really amazing to publish my own book,” she said, adding that she uses children’s books all the time in her classroom to teach reading and writing skills. “But I always had the thought in my head that if I made my own book, I would want to do the pictures myself.”
In July 2013, Hoh set out on the internet to make it happen. She used Google Search to shop around online, looking for a publisher that would accept unsolicited manuscripts, specifically for children’s books, and sent her book out. She was shocked when a representative from Peak City Publishing contacted her only a few days later to say they were interested. Hoh was at home and called her husband right away to share the good news.
“I didn’t even expect to hear back, let alone so quickly,” she said. “So, it was very exciting to me.”
Since then, the publishing process has been fully underway and her book is already available for purchase online at sites such as Amazon.com. Though the process moved faster than she thought, Hoh said she has learned a lot about patience.
“I didn’t necessarily think that anything was going to come from this,” she said. “At first, it was a lot of e-mailing back and forth and phone conversations with the publisher, then waiting for the next steps to happen. It was a lot of rushing, waiting, rushing, waiting, but getting the proof in the mail and holding that for the first time was very exciting.”
Hoh’s cats, Chewie, 10, and Petunia, 5, were the perfect characters because of their unique personalities and all of their daily, household antics. Chewie, who inspired the narrator of Brat Cat, is generally the “grumpy” one, Hoh said, while Petunia is full of energy, making for an interesting dynamic.
“[Chewie’s] very moody and [Petunia] keeps him on his toes,” she said. “He’s always hanging out and relaxing and she is always climbing up a door or getting stuck in a closet, so they’re kind of opposites. They’re like the Odd Couple.”
But the 28-page book is more than just a cute story about cats. According to Hoh, it carries a powerful and positive theme that any child could latch onto.
“The real message in it is for little kids to be able to share things,” she said. “It’s a really good message for teaching kids to be welcoming to people. It’s perfect for a new student in the classroom or a new baby brother or sister. It’s about being able to work things out and get along.”
Having a published author as their teacher has had Hoh’s first-grade class feeling star struck. Hoh said she told them about the book only a few weeks ago and has since used it in the classroom. Hoh was also named November’s Teacher of the Month in the school’s magazine.
“They know me as their teacher first and then they found out that I’ve written and published a book,” she said. “They’re very comfortable with me, but now they are looking at me in kind of a new light.”
The book is rich with material for the classroom, Hoh said, adding that she created a teacher’s guide to go along with the story. It could be used to teach both reading comprehension skills or writing craft.
Diana Mocarski, of Bensalem, Pa., who also teaches first grade at Lore Elementary, agreed that Brat Cat is “an excellent teaching tool,” and said she has noticed the positive impact it has had on students in the school.
“I have seen a change in their attitudes toward writing, almost as if it is now an attainable, realistic goal, something that they could do,” she explained, “whereas before an author was not someone with whom they could connect.”
The students at Lore Elementary are not the only ones who have learned something from Hoh, Mocarski said, adding that she, too, has learned a lot and feels inspired to try to publishing.
“I love watching her teach writing,” Mocarski said. “It is amazing how she inspires six-year olds to write. She did this before she published, so I can’t wait to see the impact she will have now.”
An open-house event to celebrate the book is taking place Saturday, Dec. 7, from 1 to 4 p.m., at Haley’s Homemade Sandwiches on Parkway Avenue in Ewing. The event will feature a book signing, appetizers, giveaways and cat face-painting for children. Hoh’s husband, Timothy Hoh, who is lead singer and guitarist in the local band Honah Lee, wrote a song to go with the book and plans to perform it during the event.
Hoh’s parents, Jane and Kenneth Thackray, of Ewing, both plan to attend the event to support their daughter, whom they say has a “bright future ahead of her writing more children’s books.”
“When we first saw it in published form it was one of our proudest moments in our life,” Jane said. “Ken and I knew how much hard work it was for Jennifer to write and illustrate her book, and to see it in its published form was magnificent!”
Hoh is not ruling out creating more books in the future or possibly even turning Brat Cat into a series, though only time will tell.
“Those cats are always doing something ridiculous,” she said. “It has a lot to do with how well this one sells. I’m hoping that this one goes well because I do have some ideas.”
To learn more about Hoh and her book Brat Cat, visit her facebook fan page at facebook.com/jenniferhoh.