Hello. I’m in the middle of a Very Heartfelt Post about something else, but then two books involving cats fell on me and I decided I need to write about them.
I really love cats. I have two cats: Penelope (Penny) the floofy elegant lady, and Telemachos (Telos) the Big Orange Doofus. I’m still deeply bitter I do not have twin stripey grey kittens named Castor and Pollux. They were in Indiana during quarantine but my husband said we couldn’t get them because I was due to give birth in the next five minutes and there wasn’t time. ANYWAY: sometimes people write really good books about cats– sometimes not. I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein, for example: VERY GOOD. There was also A Castle Full of Cats, many years ago. VERY GOOD. And just recently we got TWO really nicely done picture books about cats, showing two different, but very true, cat personalities– one involving a dog, too, which I consider a bonus.
Elisha Cooper, of Big Cat, little cat, wrote and illustrated yes & no, which tells the story of a very simple day in the life of a cat and a dog. I bought three copies of yes & no when I first saw it… And I’m sorry to tell you that the only reason I only bought three is because they only had three copies on display. It was not my finest moment. The story follows the very different reactions of a cat and a dog to a new day, and their different visions of the day (“YES!” says the enthusiastic dog, “no” says the prickly, indifferent cat), until suddenly they converge in a set of wordless pages of glorious silent mutual enjoyment… and the muted end of the day separates them, but in a lovely companionable disjunction (“no” says the tired dog, “yes,” says the gently helpful cat)… concluding with a very slightly mischievous twist.
I’ve seen some really great analyses of this book, but one review which I thankfully can’t pinpoint right now, offered a very earnest pointer that it’s really about how you can have different interests and personalities but still get along and this would teach kids that and…
I can’t disagree more. This is, fundamentally, a true portrait of a cat and a dog, each with a distinct personality. Every kid and every adult will understand and appreciate this, together, and, in that truth, will come the recognition of their own personalities. “I’m so the cat here!” I thought as I read one page, and turned it and laughed as I was the dog on the next page. These are the conversations you’ll end up having as you read. I guess you could say it teaches about personalities and getting along and… that makes me cringe, though.
One final note: the art… wow, it’s possibly Elisha Cooper’s finest yet, and if you’ve seen his other books… you’ll know that’s baffling to consider. Watch the facial expressions and the landscapes.
Now, Atticus Caticus by Sarah Maizes with art by Kara Kramer is a book that Candlewick did not send me (I found it at the Harvard Book Store and bought it in a heartbeat like a normal person, except that normal people don’t have that poor impulse control, I’m guessing), and I have read it aloud to the Spriggan several times already just because I enjoy reading it aloud.
This is a very different cat from Elisha Cooper’s stately, aloof feline. Atticus Caticus is less like my Penny (that would be the elegant cat in yes & no) and more like my Telos (The Big Orange Doofus), but I think Atticus is smarter? Telos never stalks our toes and is actually too stupid to watch birds, honestly. Atticus wants a “chat-a-ticus” with the birds out the window… that’s a Penny trait, that is.
Fundamentally, though, the glory of this book is that it’s a perfect read-aloud book… not just in that it sings right off of the page onto the tongue, which it absolutely does, but also in that the personality of the characters (both the little kid and the cat) and the art ring together with the silly fun rhythm in an ideal, rollicking merger of pure delight in each other.
Note: I am fanatically picky about rhyming books. I studied poetry at the graduate level. I read a poem every night to the Changeling and the Spriggan (he cares! I know he cares!) and I am just… picky. This is not a “rhyming picture book,” though. It’s more like Jamberry in that the rhyme is part and parcel of a narrative poem where the rhythm and the bounce and the dance is of far greater importance than the (nevertheless satisfyingly perfect) rhyme scheme.
Side rant: Lord only knows why we have to keep talking about rhyme in children’s books. Have you read Mother Goose? Half of them have rhymes all over the place. It’s about good poetry not rhyme. And metre and rhythm and beat can be ten times more important. (End of rant.)
So there you have it! Two new cat books (sorry, Elisha Cooper, the dog is also adorable but it’s a cat book in my head), and I think you should really get both of them. Buy indie, please, and let me know if I can help you find your indie book shop!
(This is all rushed Because Baby so you know I mean it, OK?)