Shy cats and shy kids both benefit from the Crime Cats Mystery Club at the Cat Welfare Association.
Now, the club is benefiting from a little recognition, courtesy of the Ohio Educational Library Media Association.
The club, which invites students in grades 1-8 to read aloud to felines in the "shy-cat room" of the shelter on Wetmore Road, was presented Oct. 25 with a 2018 Literacy Leader Award by the 42-year-old professional development organization.
Wolfgang Parker, author of the series of Crime Cats children's books set in his Clintonville neighborhood, picked up the award on behalf of the club and the Cat Welfare Association.
Susan Yutzey, a past president of the association and now a member of the awards committee, nominated the club for the honor after reading about it in a June 2017 story in The Columbus Dispatch.
"I comb the newspapers in the morning when I eat my breakfast and I look for special-interest stories about literacy," she said.
"Crime Cats Mystery Club is a model for other reading programs for domestic animals, such as felines," Yutzey wrote in her nomination letter. "With a supportive Board of Directors, an eager volunteer coordinator, a highly energetic and creative author, and a giving community, a program such as Crime Cats Mystery Club could be replicated in other states or regions. The Crime Cats Mystery Club, with its innovative approach to encouraging children to read, clearly supports literacy that reinforces student learning."
The club has been in existence for about two years, said Gail Harbert, program manager at Cat Welfare, which also operates a resale shop in the Northland area. Originally, she said, shelter employees and Parker anticipated keeping membership to 20 young people, but that more than doubled in light of the interest shown.
"It's great for the kids that they have an opportunity to come in and interact with the cats as well as sharpen their reading skills," Harbert said.
"The cats interpret this as possible verbal communication," Parker said.
The hope is that the felines reluctant to interact with people who might potentially adopt them will emerge from their furry shells as a result of being read to by the children.
"They're more apt to come out," Harbert said.
"This has afforded me a vehicle to bring the mission of the books into the world in a different way, off the page," Parker said.
The mission of his Crime Cats series, he added, is to encourage empathy.
"This is a completely different medium in which to teach that to children," Parker said. "I think for me, this is probably the most special award I've received for anything to do with Crime Cats, really, because it comes from an institution, an organization. I think it rings of a legitimacy that I had not previously had."
Yutzey also nominated the Crime Cats Mystery Club for an award from the American Association of School Librarians, with which the state organization is affiliated.
"I have not heard yet," she said. "My suspicion is I will hear at our mid-winter conference, which is in January in Seattle."