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Book Reviews: Cat Tales

March 7, 2012

Rumor has it that dogs are human’s best friends, but that’s only rumor, and no one listens to what those yappy wooly creatures have to say anyway. And even it’s true, who cares about being popular and appealing to the common masses? I’d much rather be a feline with selective tastes and a standoffish personality than some dog that rolls over on its belly or begs attention from every passerby. Cats are so much more discerning, so much more selective with their affections and so much more interesting as these reviews written by members of the International Reading Association's Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group attest. Take that, you annoying barkers. We prefer the soft murmur of a meow or a purr shared with our favorite purr-sons. 

GRADES K-2

A Secret KeepsChall, Marsha Wilson. (2012). A secret keeps. Illus. by Heather M. Solomon. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group. 

In this story in rhyme Grandpa has invited his grandson for a visit to his farm to discover a secret. The plot revolves around his finding the secret amid slowly-building suspense. The mixed paint and collage illustrations show the grandson exploring and searching around the farm for the secret. That night, dressed in pajamas and playing pirate, the young boy wanders out to the barn to discover a litter of young and playful kittens. He claims “finders keepers” (unpaginated), his grandfather’s intention planned all along. As the story ends, the boy and kitten nestle in bed together. This beautifully illustrated and gentle story reminds readers about the delights of sharing secrets with others.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Harry Cat and Tucker MouseFeldman, Thea. (2011). Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse: Starring Harry. Illus. by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov. New York: Square Fish/Macmillan. 

This simple book for beginning readers is based on the novel The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden and Garth Williams. Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse live in a cozy drainpipe in the Times Square subway station. Harry loves the theater and goes out each night to watch plays and musicals, leaving Tucker at home. One night in the middle of a play, Harry grabs a fish from a plate and runs across the stage, causing the crowd to laugh, clap, and cheer. Because of the audience reaction to the stunt, the director asks Harry to steal a fish every night. Unfortunately, this new role keeps Harry out late and sleeping in every morning, which jeopardizes his friendship with Tucker. When Tucker attends the play and sees Harry’s star quality, he realizes that he can’t stand in the way of Harry’s career. Perhaps he needs to let go of the friendship. A surprise ending discusses the true meaning of friendship. If children want more Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse books there are more in the series: Tucker’s Beetle Band (2011) and Harry to the Rescue! (2011). 

- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

The Perfect NestFriend, Catherine. (2007). The perfect nest. Illus. by John Manders. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 

Jack, a hungry, wily feline, comes up with a sure fire way to fill his tummy. He can almost taste a yummy omelet, and all he needs are eggs. In order to entice some feathery volunteers, he prepares a comfortable nest. His plans are successful, and a Spanish-speaking chicken, a French-speaking duck, and a goose all roost among the straw and cushy nest, and lay eggs of different sizes. But Jack can’t reach the eggs since the three simply won’t leave the nest. Playing to their greed, he tells them that there is a much better nest just down the road. Ready for his long-anticipated meal, he prepares to crack the eggs, but one by one, they hatch, leaving the bewildered Jack to serve as surrogate parent for the three. Although he tries to shirk his new parental responsibilities, the babies chase after him and bring him back to the nest, perfect for this strange family and its feline father, after all. The gouache illustrations and funny expressions on Jack's face and the determination of the newborns make this title great fun to share with young readers. Underneath his fur and appetite for an omelet, Jack turns out to have a nurturing nature. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

The Library LionKnudsen, Michelle.  (2006). The library lion. Illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 

Happening upon a library one day, a lion quickly makes himself at home and becomes an important part of the place. There are no rules prohibiting lions in the library, after all, and he learns to control his roar. Before he knows it, this lion has become an essential part of the library, taking on important jobs such as dusting the encyclopedias, serving as a backrest for the children during story hour, and using his enormous tongue to lick envelopes for overdue notices. When the head librarian, Miss Merriweather, falls while reaching for a book, he races through the library for help. Because Mr. McBee (not his biggest fan) is unable to understand what's happening, the lion roars at him, and then leaves the building since he has broken the "no roaring" rule. Nothing is the same, and the spirit of the library has disappeared along with its lion. The acrylic and pencil illustrations and this sentimental tribute to librarians and their patrons depicts the library as a book-filled place where all are welcome--even a lion. Sometimes even a well-trained lion must break rules for the right reasons. Bibliophiles and cat lovers will surely enjoy this one. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

That Cat Can't StayKrasnesky, Todd. (2010). That cat can’t stay. Illus. by David Parkins. Brooklyn, NY: Flashlight Press. 

In rhyming text, the story follows a savvy mother who somehow manages to persuade her cat-hating husband to tolerate first one, then two, then three, and finally, four cats. Although on the surface, he might seem heartless, she cannily appeals to his kind nature, and plucks at his heart strings about what fate might befall those cats if left to their own devices in the dangerous outside world. Young readers will laugh at the cartoon illustrations that show the personalities of the cats and the children in the family as well as the man who would prefer not to share his home with felines. As the number of cats somehow keeps increasing despite his resistance, it’s clear that he has lost control of his home. Has the house gone to the dogs, er, cats, despite his best efforts, after all? There’s only one choice left to this father if he’s going to survive the ever-increasingly number of cats. The author uses clever words and repetitive phrases to add to the enjoyment of this tale. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Homer The Library CatLindbergh, Reeve. (2011). Homer the library cat. Illus. by Anne Wilsdorf. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 

Like many older cats content with their quiet daily routine, Homer happens to find an open window and cautiously begins to explore the great world outside his home. But adventures sometimes mean lots of noise, and this cat simply wants to find a quiet place to settle for his adventure. Every time he thinks he’s found just the right spot, it proves to be too noisy for a nap. Eventually, Homer finds just the right quiet place—the library where the woman with whom he lives works. Homer has a great time, snoozing during story hour and enjoying the snacks and the attention of the library patrons. Fans of cats and libraries will enjoy this sweetly appealing story told in rhyming text as well as its playful illustrations created in collage and watercolor. Too bad all bookstores and libraries don’t have their own felines to watch over their book collections.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Going to Sleep?Martin, Jr.  Bill, & Sampson, Michael. (2011). Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, are you going to sleep? Illus. by Laura J. Bryant. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Children. 

In rhyming text, a mother cat tries to persuade her wide-awake Kitty Cat that it is time for bed. But the curious kitten makes all sorts of excuses to put off bedtime. After spying the sun, bathing, hearing a story and a lullaby, and even hiding beneath her mother’s chair, Kitty Cat finally succumbs to slumber, but even in her dreams, she’s on the go, stuffed animal in tow. The watercolor paint and colored pencil illustrations contain lovely colors and vividly depict the always-moving Kitty Cat as she finally starts to slow down, much to her patient mother’s relief. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Square CatSchoonmaker, Elizabeth. (2011). Square cat. New York: Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. 

Things haven’t been easy for Eula whose misery makes her no longer able to purr. While her other feline friends are round, she’s a square cat, which presents considerable problems; for instance, it’s not easy to get up once she has tipped over. Her generous friends, Patsy and Maude, try to make her feel better by adding round objects like a hat, earrings and rouge to her outfit, but still, she remains a square cat. When none of their ideas work, they climb into boxes and show her some of the advantages of her square nature. Content at last with her own view of the world, Eula finds her purr again. The watercolor illustrations add personality to the cats in this picture book and will make readers smile as Eula and her friends frolic across its pages. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University

Tumford the TerribleTillman, Nancy. (2011). Tumford: The terrible. New York: Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan.

From the creator of On the Night You Were Born comes a book about the importance of saying, “I am sorry.” With golden eyes and black and white fur, Tumford looks like a realistic cat in the beautiful illustrations. On the first pages readers immediately recognize Tumford for the trouble-maker he is. He pulls a tablecloth to reach pancakes, chases birds through the garden, and walks in paint. Tumford is a stubborn kitty and refuses to apologize for his misdeeds. To avoid apologizing, he hides in a sack, hides among some plants, and even hides on a shelf amid a dozen stuffed bears. His mother and father talk to him about the importance of owning up to mistakes, but sadly, the next time he causes trouble he forgets and hides once again. After reading aloud this book, children may want to talk about admitting when they’ve done wrong and offering a sincere apology.  

- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

GRADES 3-5

A Curious Collection of CatsFranco, Betsy. (2009). A curious collection of cats: Concrete poems. Illus. by Michael Wertz. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press/Ten Speed Press. 

Thirty-two delightful poems written in haiku, free verse, and limerick pay tribute to the finicky nature of felines. The concrete poems in this collection and their accompanying illustrations mimic the essential characteristics of cats, purring in contentment, grooming themselves almost constantly, and often causing havoc in the house. From Kabob’s perfect balance, even when he falls, to Tabitha’s tail which seems to behave separately from Tabitha, the poems reveal the poet’s attention to detail from time spent observing felines. Readers will laugh at the poems and images of cats drinking from toilet bowls, settling down for a nap right on top of freshly laundered clothing, and even landing on a human’s head to avoid a pesky dog.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman 

Miss Annie Freedom! LeGall, Frank. (2012). Freedom! (Miss Annie, Book #1) Art by Flore Balthazar. Minneapolis: Learner Publishing Group/ Graphic Universe.

Translated from the French, this graphic novel brings to life the playful antics of a four-month-old kitty, Miss Annie, who is just starting to be slightly independent. As she prowls around the house, always getting into household mischief, she wonders what it would be like to play outside. During her adventures inside the house, Annie meets a timid little mouse that has recently moved into the house, and they begin an unusual friendship. Annie names her Keshia, the name she overheard her owners’ daughter call her best friend. As would many felines, Annie seizes the chance to explore the great outdoors when a window is left open.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in HaikuWardlaw, Lee.  (2011). Won Ton: A cat tale told in haiku. Illus. by Eugene Yelchin. New York: Henry Holt.

Recently awarded the Lee Bennett Hopkins 2012 Poetry Award (also a 2012 ALSC Notable title), Won Ton

is the story of a shelter cat and his new home. Told with real cat-itude from the feline’s point of view, the poems follow this sassy cat from its cage in the animal shelter along the journey home, all the way through the adjustment period. In an opening note, the author, a cat lover herself, explains that the poetry is written in the senryu form, which focuses on personality and behavior rather than the nature concepts typical of haiku. The illustrator’s graphite-and-gouache pictures lend the feel of Japanese woodblock prints to the book’s pages. This is a beautifully designed book to which cat lovers will have an affinity since they’ll likely relate to the bond that develops between a young boy and his cat. The author has created a teacher’s guide, a recipe for kitty litter cake and provides other useful ideas at her website at http://www.leewardlaw.com/won-ton-images/.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant



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