Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Finley Keller

Finley Keller MCA Interview Series Featured image

Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.


Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Thank you for joining us – we hope this finds you well. For each interview in our interview series, we speak with one of our honorees to find out more about them and their Mom’s Choice Award-winning media, product, or service! For this interview, we were able to speak with Finley Keller, who is the author of three MCA award-winning books, The Kittens and The Possum, The Kittens and The Baby Chicks, and The Kittens and The Rescue. All the books in “The Kittens” book series contain stories that are both realistic and teach lessons that present positive thoughts and feelings to keep the stories fun and uplifting. Finley was able to combine her love for animals and her passion for entertaining children by writing stories about the animals at her home, Keller Farms. “The Kittens” book series is full of stories that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and warmth in your heart. Keep reading for a great interview with Finley!

MCA: Hi Finely! Congratulations on all three of your Mom’s Choice Awards! As a fellow animal lover myself, I absolutely adored reading your “The Kittens” book series and fell in love with all of the characters. You have a great knack for storytelling and capturing the thoughts and feelings of the animals you write about. With such amazing storytelling abilities, I can only assume you grew up surrounded by a family of readers and storytellers.  

Finley Keller with some books in her "Kittens and" Book Series.

Mikey and Greta, the inspiration for the main characters in “The Kittens” book series!

Finley: I grew up in a family where our parents read often to us, Heidi, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, long poems, and such. When I had my own daughter, I found it difficult to find little storybooks that weren’t nonsense – short of the wonderful Dr. Seuss and such, of course. Being somewhat of an artist, I started writing and illustrating my own books back then…making my daughter the star and putting familiar people or pets in the stories. I did it also for two nephews and a niece. I wanted stories that were not infantile in language and that were fun – fun for the reader as well as the read-to! Alas, as my daughter grew up, I stopped.

My professional life was insurance, first as a licensed agent working for a CLU as his client’s servicing agent then got into claims – first auto then general liability. Ultimately, I went into SIU (Special Investigative Unit) investigating and handling insurance fraud and became SIU Manager for my insurance company. My company pulled out of California and I took advantage to “retire” from insurance and started an online photos-to-canvas business. It was a lot of fun and very rewarding…and a lot of work! After a few years, the box stores got on the bandwagon and, though their work product was poor, people only cared about the price – a price schedule I was too small to compete with. Thus, “Retirement” #2!

Then, my husband suggested I write and illustrate children’s books. My first, Kittens on the Barn Roof, is based on a true story. Sadly, my drawing ability was rusty and I also let the facts of the event carry the story too much. The event really happened and all the cats and kittens in the story are real (sadly, some have crossed the Rainbow Bridge since then). I loved the story but was disappointed in my work product. My drawing skills had improved greatly over time so a couple of years ago, I re-drew the illustrations and enhanced the story with some character development – in keeping, frankly, with the actual personalities of the kittens! One of the graces of being self-published, I could do it and, thus, re-published the book!

Living in Hawaii for 20 years, I was a marathon runner – ran 13 marathons, 11 half marathons, and more races and relays to count. I was also a hunter/jumper rider, having a beautiful 16.2 hh Thoroughbred mare, took Kung Fu (reaching 1st-degree black belt before stopping!); race crewed on an ocean sailing boat, scuba dived, and was very involved in my church, an Episcopal cathedral, serving as head usher for 7 years.

Artistic-wise, I painted in oils for many, many years and dabbled in pen and inks and pastels. Drawing was not a forte but I had some successful efforts!

MCA: Your life sounds like an absolute dream! It seems like there is an unlimited supply of inspiration surrounding you on a daily basis. Where did your love for animals stem from?

Finley: All my life I have had animals – cats, dogs, hamsters, Guinea Pigs, Netherland Dwarf bunnies…and horses!…and have always had a great love for any and all of them. I saved a baby duck once from a mongoose at my stables by chasing it down!…saved more than one baby bird…cared for the gazillion ducks and peacocks at my stables in Hawaii…providing scratch and a pond (that I had to clean every few days!). Here on the farm, I’ve saved a number of baby snakes, some bunnies…lots of birds. Of course, we have had three kittens and a hen find their way to Keller Farms over the years and made this their home!

Many years ago I started feeding a feral cat – my husband named her Magic for Black Magic (she is a long-haired beauty) – that was pregnant and had her kittens some distance from our farm. After a few months, she started showing up out by my horse’s shelter at night…with her kittens – three, I think. Ultimately, only Magic and the calico (I named her Sweetie Pie) would come to eat. After a time, I noticed Sweetie Pie was pregnant. Then one weekend, they moved their litters to our farm! Sort of an amazing feat for them, actually. I knew where they lived…in a culvert about ½ mile away – and across the surface road! Oh…my…stars! Sweetie Pie had 3 babies and Magic had 12…yes, 12. (Magic had several litters here…never less than 8 and usually 12!)

Cats multiply faster than any other animal on the planet! It took us 3 years of diligence but we finally trapped/caught each and everyone – cats & kittens (a handful were adopted out) – and had them spayed/neutered via the Sacramento SPCA Feral Cat Clinic…$15 per cat/kitten that included rabies and an immunization shot…and a clipped left ear! We had almost 100 cats/kittens fixed at this Clinic – all born here! Currently, there are 30 “barn” cats…plus 10 in-and-out house cats. Yep….we buy a lot of cat food! I am always sure they have ample sleeping places that are warm in winter, good food to eat, and plenty of water.

We have three male come-heres…had four but one recently died of old age. Two are Toms. One is a beautiful Flame Siamese (Peaches) and the other is a handsome black named Toby. The third is a neutered black male with no tail – not sure if it is his breed or for some other reason. He belonged to a neighbor who moved some years ago but when they went to take him with them, the woman simply picked him up and held him as she got in the car. Hello! He bolted and they just left him. They don’t live far away but never came back. He lived for a year or so in the pasture behind another neighbor and finally discovered us. I named him Lester (less…tail?) and he gets two meals a day here. Granted, he’s not the nicest cat but we take care of him…and he sleeps in our barn when it is cold or rainy.

Interestingly, the ground zero moms, Magic and Sweetie Pie, still come for dinner from time to time. I won’t see them for months then they are here…sometimes together and sometimes alone. Magic must be pretty old.

MCA: That is truly amazing, and thank you for all you do towards animal rescuing efforts. The world needs more people like you! I’m also very jealous of all the fur babies you’re surrounded by. Was it your love of animals that inspired The Kittens and The Possum, The Kittens and The Baby Chicks, and The Kittens and The Rescue?

Finley: My special connection to and love for Mikey and Greta were certainly the driving force to have them star in my stories after the first one. There was a “learning curve”, if you will, in the development of both the drawings and personalities of the kittens. The drawing skills took some time – since it is not my strong suit! – but has come along satisfactorily. Oddly, the personalities of the two kittens have been a matter of either art imitating life or life imitating art as I “grew” in my knowledge and awareness of the subjects – if that makes any sense.

Life on the farm keeps us in somewhat constant contact with other critters – like possums, raccoons, bunnies and even turtles…yes, and skunks! – so it was easy to pick an animal that fit my story needs. Let’s face it, possums are terribly ugly and their teeth are horrendous. Raccoons are smart and tend to be sassy (as well as dangerous, of course). And skunks? Well, we’ve had our adventures with the same, including both my husband and I getting sprayed! Otherwise, except for the human mommy – and Santa! – I don’t want humans in the stories.

I simply choose the animals and create the story around them! I enjoy giving an animal a personality and a name. My husband and I find ourselves calling the occasional skunk, possum or raccoon by the names from my stories…the skunks not being quite as endearing as the other two! One thing I always do is read up on the animal I am going to feature. I weave in some fact or facts about the animal so that the child hearing or reading the story learns something about that animal.

MCA: Can you discuss the two main characters in your books and how they were inspired by real kittens? What are some of the other characters in your stories that are based on real animals?

Finley: The main characters of all but one of my stories are Mikey and Greta. Their mom gave birth to them under bushes along the front of our house. I knew when they were born and immediately found them. She had 9 kittens! Mom was killed 5 days later and I took on trying to care for these tiny kittens – totally ignorant as to how. I read up but didn’t do well. All died but two: Mikey and Greta. I don’t know how they survived my ineptitude but was thankful that they did. It made them very special. I am, in fact, the only mommy they have ever known. They were alive when I did my first book – that featured their brother from an earlier litter, Rambo, by the by – but were not in that story. I truly am the only mother they know and spend a lot of time with them. When they were still tiny, I would take them outside and let them play with the older kittens in the birch trees (my birch trees grow like willows so lots of fun for kittens!). And, when it was time for them to come in, I’d call them and they would come…then, into the little cat caddy and back into the house. At this age, Mikey had huge ears for his body so when I got the idea to write stories starring them, Mikey’s big ears were exaggerated for character “branding”.

I do write them as they are…Greta being all about rules and Mikey flying by the seat of his pants. I am constantly amazed how many times I will see them and say, ”Wow, I draw you like that!” or they will do or get into something and I think, “Wow, I wrote you doing that!” Thus, my comment above about art imitating life and vice versa. Oddly, in my stories Mikey is the big snuggler with his mommy but in real life, Greta is the great snuggler. Must say, though, that when Mikey looks at me, it is almost with human eyes…and the love for me is strong and intense. He also tends to be a bit of a brat whereas Greta is more mannerly – though she has her moments.

All other cats and kittens in my stories are real and most are still alive (some have, sadly, already crossed The Rainbow Bridge as noted above). I wrote a story about Sally the Donkey and she was real. The Baby Chicks are created after human childhood friends of mine from my hometown in Virginia – all of whom are great fans. After the storybook before the Baby Chicks were introduced, I was back visiting and they told me they wanted to be in a story. Baby Chick Theresa’s human counterpart is a retired registered nurse who is a natural manager – chairs every committee, etc. She refers to herself as a “bossy boots” (I used that term in that their first book). She owns a Duffy which she loves dearly, thus, she has the boat! Bonnie is an incredible nature photographer – butterflies, bees (with legs full of pollen), Dragonflies, birds, flowers…all wonderful and you want them all! So she is a bit of a kindred spirit of Mikey’s – he loves butterflies – and they love to go look for buggies together. Sandra used to have a beautiful alto voice (and may still), so she sings. I enjoy the Baby Chicks and often include them because they give the stories extra dimension. I use Sandra’s off-the-cuff singing to introduce ideas or thoughts that I want to be included in without having to bog the story down with tedious dialogue.

MCA: As I said before, it sounds like there is no shortage of inspiration surrounding you at all times! I’m sure all those animals keep you a very busy woman. Tell us more about the real Keller Farms and how it influenced the writing of your books!

Finley: Keller Farms sports 5 horses (1 Oldenburg and 4 Hanoverians), 3 dogs (Lab, Kelpie, and McNab), hens and roosters, 3 ducks, and the “two thousand cats” noted in question #1! We also sort of rescued a rooster and three hens I call the Raiders. They used to live on a farm property across the lane but they have always come here during the day and would religiously return home at sunset. Why come here? We have trees, shade, grass, water. Their owners use their land for bike racing. Recently, the neighbors tore down the ancient barn that was on the back of the property…the barn where these chickens lived all their lives. The barn was torn down totally in one day. We watched the Raiders return home…to nothing. Later that evening, we found they had come back to our farm! We have a permanent dog kennel in the backyard that we adapted for the Raiders – Bob even built a wonderful nesting box. We put tree branches into the chain link fence wire for roosting…added a water dispenser. But, after several efforts to “usher” them into this new home, they insisted on getting high up in an evergreen type tree – and prefer it even in the rain! Go figure…

We are a full house and Bob keeps wondering why the “No Vacancy” sign doesn’t work when yet another kitten finds its way here…

MCA: The Kittens and The Possum, The Kittens and The Baby Chicks, and The Kittens and The Rescue are 3 out of 12 books in your series that have received an MCA. Can you tell us about the other 9 books in your series?

Mikey and Greta, the inspiration for the main characters in "The Kittens and" Book Series!

Mikey and Greta, the inspiration for the main characters in “The Kittens” book series!

Finley: My first story is The Kittens on the Barn Roof and is about a litter of young kittens that follow older kittens up a tree onto the roof of the barn. They get up but can’t get down. I happened to notice them trying and made my way up the tree as best I could to pat the trunk to encourage them down – all to no avail. Suddenly, I realized that mom was at the foot of the tree. She was looking intently up at her kittens and I slowly backed away and sat by our arena. Mom went up the tree, checked on her babies, got back on the tree, and proceeded to coax each and everyone down. It was amazing. (Of the six kittens, four are still here, as is mom. The others have passed.)
Lesson: be sure you are old enough or big enough before you barrel into new territory.

The next is The Butterfly and The Kitten that is about Mikey and his love of butterflies but mistakes a bumblebee for his beloved black and yellow butterfly and, when coaxing the “butterfly” to get on his nose (he loves the tickle of their feet), he is stung by the bee.
Lesson: assume nothing…look carefully.

The Kittens and The Donkey is about Mikey and Greta following the older kittens to the neighboring farm and getting too far from the fence, then, getting lost in the tall grass. The wind has changed and they can’t smell home. They meet several animals (all of which are in Wilton at various farms) who can not or will not help them – then they meet a coyote who is about to make a meal of them when Sally the Donkey comes up and kicks the coyote – causing him to run away (donkeys are natural guards against coyotes and are used by many ranchers and farmers for same, by the way). The older kittens are on top of the hay block at Keller Farms and Rambo spots Mikey and Greta in the neighboring field with Sally and he and the others rescue them.
Lesson: rules are for a reason, to disobey can possibly cause you to be hurt.

The Kittens First Christmas – a Sleigh Ride with Santa is about Mikey and Greta experiencing Christmas for the first time…a tree in the house, decorations on the tree and elsewhere around the house, and waking up to find a strange man in a red suit putting presents under the tree! Greta figures it out because their human mommy had told them about Santa. Mikey immediately jumps down from their chair and goes to the toy sack to explore. The kittens get trapped in Santa’s sack and end up going with Santa to more houses. When Santa reaches into the sack and grabs both of them, plopping them into stockings, he discovers they are live kittens. Mikey and Greta learn about the naughty and nice list and get to ride in Santa’s sleigh. An older cat at home greets them when they return and helps the tiny kittens understand the true meaning of Christmas.
Lesson: 1) be careful about snooping around where you shouldn’t be and 2) that the real presents of Christmas are the love you give others and the love you receive back.

The Kittens and The Easter Bunny is about Mikey and Greta meeting a baby bunny that turned out to be an Easter Bunny. Though it is a secret place, the bunny Jasper takes them to Easter Bunny Land and has to disguise the kittens as bunnies so they can visit the Easter basket factory. Mikey, of course, did not need paper ears! They get to see all the Easter goodies being made and Mikey falls in love with an egg that has a butterfly on it and Greta falls in love with one that sparkles (Greta just loves things that sparkle!). When the factory bell rings alerting all the bunnies it is time to start deliveries, Jasper takes the kittens home on his first trip. They get back home by wearing magic slippers and flying – which Mikey was a bit scared about doing! The new friends are sad to say goodbye and the Easter Bunny says he won’t be able to visit them again and that they will not remember their adventure when they wake up – to protect Easter Bunny land. But, Jasper leaves the kittens the special eggs that they had admired at the factory and the kittens remember. They also knew that Jasper trusted them.
Lesson: friendship is about trust and maybe keeping a secret…except they could tell their mommy because you shouldn’t keep secrets from your parents.

The Kittens in The Kitchen was a fun story to write. It was inspired by the antics of my husband’s twin boys when they were not yet 2 years old…getting into the refrigerator and pulling out flour, eggs, milk, butter, and whatever and making a horrible mess. In my story, Mikey and Greta wake up from their nap to find their mommy isn’t home. Mikey can see all sorts of dishes up on the island in the kitchen and wants to get up to explore. Greta tries to talk him out of it but Mikey finds a way up, climbing up an apron. Greta reluctantly follows. Mikey gets into a large bowl of flour but can’t get out. Greta devises a plan to extricate him but it goes wrong and they both fall backward into a bowl of beaten eggs. Next, Mikey falls into a dish of soft, mushy butter! Both are a horrible mess! They get down from the table, get up in their chair and go to sleep. Their human mommy finds the mess in the kitchen and messy footprints leading to sleeping kittens, also a mess. Their human mommy wasn’t angry but the kittens end up being given baths – which they both hate!
Lesson: if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!

The Kittens and The Pumpkin Patch involves Halloween. The older kittens are scared about a neighboring pasture and Mikey and Greta are warned by Rambo to stay away because of ghosts and goblins…which Mikey and Geta don’t know anything about. They decide to sneak out of the house late at night to see what is in the pasture and come upon a pumpkin patch. They start to play, thinking this is the most fun until something scares them. It first looks like a scary monster but it is not, it is an owl, the likes of which Mikey and Greta have never seen. The owl turns out to be one of Santa’s helpers, finding out who has been good and who has been bad for the naughty and nice list. The tiny kittens knew about the Naughty and Nice list from Santa but now learn what sort of things puts you on the nice list and what can put you on the naughty list.
Lesson:
The unknown is not always as scary as it seems.

The Kittens and The Baby Skunk is a story involving Mikey and Greta and the Baby Chicks. We’ve had several incidences with skunks over the years so I thought this would be fun. The kittens and baby chicks are out playing by the pond when Sadie the baby skunk appears. No one has ever seen a skunk before and Sadie explains that it is because skunks sleep during the day and come out at night. She tells them that she woke up, peeked outside, and was amazed at how beautiful flowers are in the daylight. So, she sneaked out. Sadie is invited to join the playtime but one time when she laughs, her stinky smell comes out. She is embarrassed and tells her new friends what the smell is and how it is used…but that she can’t control it. The other baby skunks tease her but her mother told her when she had to use it, she’d be able to. Shortly after, Sadie begs the others to go into the neighboring pasture because there are so many more flowers. Greta says it is against the rules to leave the farm but after much coaxing, they all go. It isn’t long before they are facing danger from an angry bull. All are so scared they can’t move. Sadie looks at her new friends and feels sad that she has put them in danger. She decides she is going to save them and slowly walks up to the face of the bull whose nose is on the ground only inches from the baby animals. He snorts and paws the ground more…but Sadie turns around and sprays her stinky spray into his nose. It isn’t much but it is enough to send the bull racing away, shaking his head to rid himself of the smell! Hooray for Sadie! She saves everyone and also accomplishes the execution of delivering her spray when she had to.
Lesson: Sort of two parts: Our parents create rules for us to keep us safe and having confidence in ourselves usually allows us to accomplish what we need to.

My latest book, The Kittens and The Chipmunks, was recently published. The chipmunks are inspired by two young girls who are identical twins and dressage riders. I got to know them years ago because there is something about the facial structure of one of them – Lily-rose – that reminds me of how I draw Mikey. After introductions, I have developed a wonderful relationship with the entire family and they are great fans! In this new story, Mikey and Greta meet two baby chipmunks and start to play with them but their playtime was interrupted by the chipmunks’ mother who reminds them of their acorn collecting chores. The tiny kittens help them – albeit, with great difficulty and ultimately requiring assistance from the chipmunks to get the job done. The chipmunks constantly encourage and cheer on the tiny kittens in their effort to help collect nuts for the winter. All have a wonderful time and a grand adventure. Once again, the tiny kittens meet wonderful new friends and learn new things.
Lesson: Helping and encouraging others with their work or tasks makes for success and a feeling of accomplishment.

I am currently working on a new story, The Kittens and The Baby Duck. The muse for the duckling is another childhood friend who has joined “the group” back home! This story is still rough but it is about the duckling and her mom moving to Keller Farms and is introduced to the kittens by the Baby Chicks. The kittens note the similarities (color of body, feet and beak) to the Baby Chicks but the differences – large beak (that Jeanne informs them is called a “bill” on ducks) and huge feet. Jeanne the Baby Duck tells them about how their bill and big feet work for them. They all go to the pond and Jeanne teaches Mikey to swim (he is always falling into the water!). Mikey gets overzealous and ignores Jeanne’s caution to return to shallow water after he’s been swimming a while. He gets tired and starts to panic. Not to worry! Timmy Turtle saves the day! He comes up from beneath Mikey and swims him into shore. Jeanne has a big day. She meets an animal she’s never seen before and successfully teaches someone to swim for the first time. Mikey learns to swim but learns about his limitations.
Lessons: 1) differences in appearance are ok and can have a purpose, 2) listen to advice from others, it could be life-saving.

MCA: Those are all very powerful lessons we could all use in life. Out of all of the lessons your books teach, if you could ensure the readers walk away with one main lesson, what would it be?

Finley: It is hard to focus on one main lesson. My stories are always about the love of family, friends, and trust in ourselves and each other…laced with mommy’s love. I endeavor to make the stories fun, sometimes comical, and filled with endearing characters…characters that hopefully make the reader/listener smile and feel warm and snuggly inside. I hope I accomplish these things!

MCA:


You can learn more about Finley Keller and her award-winning books, The Kittens and the Possum, The Kittens and The Baby Chicks, and The Kittens and The Rescue by visiting her MCA Shop pages.

Interview With Finley Keller

2 Comments on “Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Finley Keller”

  1. Finley and her family were a part of my life growing up in Urbanna VA. It was truly a scond home for me! I lwas blessed to know and to love the entire family, including all the animals and especially the horses and dogs! I feel as though my time spent with Finley and her family, including the animals, was a true gift from the the Lord and what a blessing it was and still is today!! Love you Finley and your family so much! Keep writing your intriguing books!!!!!!! Bonnie Van Wagenen Williams!

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