Well, I figured, after a long silence like that (sorry– I had a deadline to meet at the same time as I was looking after the Changeling during this fascinating time, but I met my deadline, so here I am again) everyone deserves a treat. Don’t you think that’s right? So here’s a trip to my childhood– and maybe yours– with an extra-special treat on offer at the end! (I won’t blame you if you skip to the end and then go up to check the review, the words aren’t going anywhere while you scan around.)
One of the books that came out during the most miserable point in the pandemic (which is to say, the point during which I couldn’t visit inside book shops or even get curbside pickup– and I was glad not to do so since I wanted to help keep everyone safe, but it was miserable, no denying it) was Three Little Kittens by Barbara McClintock.
Now, this appealed to me for two deeply personal reasons in addition to the obvious “that sounds cute!” reason: a) I remember hearing my mother sing me the Three Little Kittens on an extremely regular basis all my childhood– my mother, who is allergic to cats, singing to me, the cat-obsessed child she never should have had to put up with but has dealt with anyway (I have two cats now, sorry about that); b) Barbara McClintock, the author and illustrator, is deservedly well-known for all of her incredible work, but to me she will always be the illustrator of Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, a favourite poet of mine since childhood. That link between nursery song and beloved illustrator and lovely poetry right there struck me, right in the part of me that wanted “something new” but also “something comforting.” Sort of like wanting mac and cheese, but maybe with fresh garden thyme to give it a bit of a still-comforting twist.
Well, as I said, I couldn’t go into a book shop in April, and therefore the lovely new book, released in April, fell victim to that situation where I would run across a mention online that a book had been released and think “I should get that!” But then because I wasn’t in a book shop the next day, it would slip my mind. Incredibly frustrating. (Don’t worry: since my local book shops have reopened, I seem to be making up for lost time!) But I got the loveliest reminder when Barbara McClintock posted a quick picture of these cute Three Little Kittens cards online.
Well, I enthused, and mentioned I’d love to buy some. Then I got a lovely note from her saying that she could help me get some through her. So I rapidly formulated a plan. (The plan comes up later in the post, don’t worry.) I got a copy of the book very quickly (it does help to have incentive– not to mention an open book shop), and Barbara McClintock arranged for the cards (I have 50) equally quickly.
I’m going to tell you first about the book—then about the cards. (That might have to do with the treat, but I don’t like to spoil surprises, so who knows, right?)
Is the book cute? Yes, but you knew that already. You know the song, saw the cover, and trust the illustrator as much as I could do, we all know that. But, since I know you know the song as well as I do, and PROBABLY you sing it with your own kids, and if you don’t, I’d like to know why you don’t, because YOU SHOULD—well. You also know that there are fun ways to play with the song and build the story. How many verses do you sing? (Only the first??? What kind of slacker are you?) What’s the backstory? Are the kittens messy kittens? How and why do they soil their mittens, then? Are they playful? Does each kitten have a different personality, or are they a Little Greek Chorus of Like-Minded Kittens?
Well, you see, after you’ve, perhaps, heard this song every evening of your childhood and then go on to sing it on a regular basis as a parent– hypothetically speaking– you might start to muse on these questions and more. And then you get a book proving that Barbara McClintock does, too, so you feel less alone…
The book begins in prose with playful kittens smelling a delectable scent wafting through the window… and become a chorus of kitties. At this point, our kittens do seem to be rather Greek Chorus-like. But wait!
When the pie proves to be hot, the kittens might diversify in their views, even if they still unite in action. The song becomes the BIG BOLD TEXT while the kittens debate in balloons under the rhyme. We even get to the previously unheard-of (but deeply appropriate to the cat-personality) line: “Told you so!” (Note to my parents: Yes, I know you don’t think cats say “Told you so!” because you say that cats can’t talk, and I shouldn’t anthropomorphize my cats– well, ask any cat owner. Ask Barbara McClintock, all right? Cats convey their thoughts and sentiments without the limitations of mere words. If you can accept Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words? Believe me, cats talk without words.)
Well, the good news is, these kittens learn from their mistakes, resolve the problems they’ve caused, and take responsibility for their actions– and are rewarded with… [SPOILER ALERT!!!] hey, is that a mouse close by…? Oh, good, the little mouse is another friend to share some pie! Which, this time, they eat with their forks!
As you can tell, this is a narrative stage beyond the song itself. This is the story you read after you’ve sung this song to your kid, and with your kid. This is the book that captures your kid and shows just what you can do when you think into and beyond the lyrics of a song. Personally, I think if you have a little 3- or 4-year-old who loves music and stories, this is a great one for taking it one tiny notch up, an easy step to manage without overwhelming the kid.
Real talk to real parents: if you, for example, are looking for something to do to use time in a constructive way during, as it might be, a global pandemic…? Think about it! You sing the song, read the book, discuss the story and pictures with play-acting and lots of giggles, and then set your kid up with crayons and paper to make their OWN Three Little Kittens story! You might… you might even get to SIT DOWN for 5 minutes? Not guaranteed, but I’m dreaming here– what about… what about having a cup of tea or coffee while it’s still warm???
Now for the treat:
Remember when I told you about impulse-buying 80 Snowy Day stamps?
I offered at the time to match you with a book recommendation and mail it to you with a Snowy Day stamp, and I will also, happily, research good indie book shops which are local to you and/or will ship to you at the same time. The offer stands, and– while supplies of cards last, you’ll get it on one of these awesome Three Little Kittens cards!
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following:
a) Your literary interests
b) Your name
c) Your mailing address
I will write you a recommendation on a Three Little Kittens card, with a Snowy Day stamp! That’s it! Easy as that.
Enjoy your books, enjoy your reading, and enjoy the art!