Children can inspire us to do great things. The night Alysson Bourque became an author, she was simply being a resourceful mother for her children who wanted to be read more storybooks.
The Lafayette native, a former first grade teacher turned lawyer, had stepped away from a seven-year career as an assistant attorney general for Louisiana to spend more time with her children, ages 4 and 6 at the time. “I was enjoying quality time with them,” says Bourque from her home in Sunset. “The days ended with my husband and me reading to our kids every night. One evening after finishing a story, they wanted to hear more, but we had read every book on the shelves,” she recalls. “So, instead of spending money on more books, I told them I’d write some stories. They were so excited; they believed in me, so I believed in myself.”
Alycat Takes Shape
That night the litigator, who’d spent years preparing trial briefs, wrote the draft of what would be her first book: Alycat and the Thursday Dessert Day, a story that aptly illustrates how it can be fun to try something new. “I wrote for hours and hours, inspired by my children believing in me and excited to do something out of my comfort zone,” says Bourque.
The next night the anxious mother read the first draft to her son and daughter, intentionally leaving out the ending in hopes for their feedback. “They were completely immersed in the story,” she recalls. “And when I stopped reading, they were sad because they wanted more. I asked them how they wanted the story to end and they gave me different ideas - some of which I used.”
It would be a year and a half, in 2016, before the book was published by an independent publishing company. Seeing her book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble “was a magical experience” and an affirmation that would lead to three more books, creating the Alycat series. In each story, Alycat is faced with dilemmas that many children experience in their own lives, and she learns how to solve problems with either creativity, imagination or the help of friends. The days of the week are worked into the titles to reinforce the occurrence of everyday problems. In Alycat and the Monday Blues, Alycat finds a hidden talent and cures her Monday blues by helping a friend in need. Alycat and the Friendship Friday shows Alycat trying to find her place among friends when attention is shifted to a new student in class. Bourque’s son, who plays golf around the world, inspired Alycat and the Tournament Tuesday, in which a boy learns he doesn’t need a lucky ball to win.
Bourque’s intent with her books is to help children believe in themselves, and still reach out for help when needed. “When we tap into our imaginations, we discover things about ourselves we didn’t know were there,” adds the self-proclaimed daydreamer. “When
I was in third grade, I sat in class and daydreamed a lot,” she laughs. “And my teacher would say, ‘Alycat, come back down to Earth.’ That’s where I got the name for my main character. Alycat represents me as a child with a big imagination and unsure how to go about using it and relying on friends.”
Fans are the Focus
With over 15,000 books sold, the series has inspired three Alycat dolls, as well as Alycat’s brother Bugsy and Alycat charms. The star of the live show is a 6-foot, fuzzy white Alycat mascot that accompanies Bourque at author appearances. “When I first began doing author visits, the children would ask me if Alycat was real, and I wanted them to have that interactive experience. These days Alycat has a busier schedule than I do,” laughs Bourque.
Staying connected to her young fans is important to the author, who pledges, “Whatever my young readers want, I will try my hardest to make that happen.”
That includes keeping them engaged in the stories by providing an activity at the back of each book. Monday Blues was Bourque’s first attempt at writing a song, encouraging the children to sing along on iTunes, Apple Music or YouTube. The song was so well-liked that she has also written tunes for the other books. The Friendship Friday song is performed by her children, now 10 and 12, and produced by her husband (a one-time member of local band GTO.)
Pretty, petite and cheerful, Bourque routinely visits schools and libraries, relaying her message to children to “go for the goals that seem challenging, because those are the ones most rewarding.” She tells her impressionable fans, “You don’t have to have a plan, but if you follow your heart and God’s will, great things will happen.” Her motto: “Do good, be happy and humble, and be grateful.”
It’s clear in speaking with her that this award-winning author knows all the reasons there are to be grateful. The series that has been number one on Amazon’s best seller list has also earned her several prestigious awards, including the New York Big Book Award, the Benjamin Franklin Digital Award, the Next Generation Indie Book Award for the series, and four Mom’s Choice Awards.
Alycat’s fan base includes Louisiana’s First Lady Donna Edwards, Joanna Gaines, a soap opera star, and royalty from across the pond. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. William and Kate) were gifted a copy of Alycat and the Thursday Dessert Day, and Bourque framed the thank you note she received from the royal couple. In June, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, requested that Bourque record a reading to be played during her online show, “Storytime with Fergie and Friends,” and the Duchess will be reading the Alycat books, herself, during her YouTube segment “Little Red News."
For Bourque, getting her book into the right hands includes partnering with causes like Foster the Love, Lafayette Walk to Defeat ALS, and The Family Tree. She also provided Alycat charms to healthcare workers at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. During COVID she was asked to contribute her books to The Book Fairies in Canada, a community program that hides books in public places. Shortly afterwards she brought the idea locally, placing her books around Lafayette, Breaux Bridge and Sunset.
This October, Alycat and her creator will travel to Jacksonville, Florida with 200 books and dolls to take part in Operation Shower, a nonprofit organization that provides baby showers to expectant military wives whose husbands have been deployed. Also, in helping up-and-coming children’s authors, Bourque has been a KidLit Picks news contributor on KADN FOX 15 for the past three years, reviewing children’s books submitted to her by local and national authors.
With all of her accomplishments in the past five years, Bourque says, “My greatest reward has been to be able to create something my children can be proud of. I just want to make them proud. They know they have inspired all this and have been a part of it.”
That said, kids across the country wait in anticipation for the release of her fifth book, Alycat and the Cattywampus Wednesday, expected to come out sometime in 2022.