100 Scope Notes
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Tim Miller on the Making of TINY KITTY, BIG CITY

When it comes to picture books, it’s pretty simple – if Tim Miller is involved, I’m interested. He has a new book out today – Tiny Kitty, Big City – so it seems like a good time to chat.

TRAVIS: What was the spark that led to Tiny Kitty, Big City?

TIM MILLER: There were actually two sparks, set three years apart. The first was  unconscious and occurred around the time when I was leading school tours of the Panorama of New York City at the Queens Museum.

The Panorama is a giant to-scale model of NYC from the 1964 NY World’s 
Fair. I had adopted a rescue cat a few years earlier, and one day 
without thinking about it I scribbled a sketch of a tiny kitty staring 
up at a massive skyscraper in a big city, then the name for the book 
popped into my head.

I played with the idea for a while, but eventually gave up when I couldn’t figure it out. Fast forward three years later, I encountered a stray cat and her litter of kittens when parking my car in Queens. I fed them for about a week until I was able to rescue them from where they were living in a beat-up cardboard box under a subway trestle. Then, I fostered them until I was able to find them new homes with the help of a local cat rescue called Jersey Cats. The experience of seeing how the stray and her litter had to survive and imagining what that felt like through their eyes was the next spark that became the heart of the story.

TRAVIS: So it’s safe to say you’re a cat person?

TIM: Don’t tell my cats this, but I think of myself as more of an animal person in general, than just strictly being a cat lover. I grew up on a farm with cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, chickens, ducks, and geese, and thought of them all as my extended family (except when I had to do my 
chores). My father was also a K-9 trainer, so dogs were a big part of my life as well. If I had the room to fit all these animals in my 900 square foot apartment now, I would do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, things are a bit tight, so I’m limited to three cats for the time being.

TRAVIS: How did you make the art for Tiny Kitty, Big City?

TIM: Here is the secret creative formula I used to make the book –

Fear + Anxiety + Procrastination + Day Dreaming + Doubt + Self-Despair 
+ Deadline + Panic + Acrylic Gouache + Digital Hocus Pocus = Voilà!

TRAVIS: Sounds like an effective formula! Is there a line or an illustration you’re especially happy with in the book?

TIM: I love the dramatic punch of the second spread in the book and the 
emotion it packs, but my favorite moment is the spread with the 

I’m really hard on myself in general and dwell on all the things I wish I would have done better, but I look at this one and think that I got it right. I’m especially happy with the handling of the paint for “Wildlife city.” (the pigeon spread). It has the kind of spontaneity and energy to it that I love in a painting because it’s alive.

TRAVIS: Key Question: What snack puts you in peak creativity mode?

TIM: It’s a toss-up between caffeine and almonds.

Almonds keep me afloat when I’m caught in the never-ending tunnel of completing a project. However, caffeine is the magic elixir that brings me to peak awareness and creativity (unless consumed in massive quantities, in which case I collapse inward).

TRAVIS: Thanks for taking my questions, Tim! Here’s a description of Tiny Kitty, Big City from the publisher:

A heartwarming, gorgeously painted picture book about a kitten on the streets of a city who ultimately finds a warm, loving home, by acclaimed author-illustrator Tim Miller.

Tiny, brave, playful kitty goes on an adventure through the crowded, noisy, swinging city in a story about finding love and kindness in unexpected places.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. So great to see the backstory to this wonderful ode to NY. Hooray pigeons (I mean, Kitties)!