Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Books for People Who Love Cats

Since today is Cat Lovers' Day, it seems like a good time to look at some of the great books out there about cats.

For some reason it is dog or horse books that first come to mind when thinking of novels about pets and their people. Ah, but there are some great things just waiting for you to to find them. Here are a few from the over 200 cat subject books in the Emerson Library.

If you are looking for a"chapter book" for readers at the upper elementary level, there are a few that I like a great deal.

My all time favorite has to be Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander. I have gotten several kids excited about this amazing tale and each time they enthusiastically talk about it I want to rush out and re-read it for the umpteenth time. We learn early on that cats don't really have nine lives. They do have the ability to travel to nine different times and places. The cat and the boy do just that, providing a historical trip that focuses on felines from the well loved cats in ancient Egypt to Germany's fear of witch cats in the Middle Ages. In addition to rollicking adventure, the reader gets a painless and easily remembered dose of history.

It helps to know a little bit about the Pied Piper to get the most out of The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, but anyone can enjoy the adventure and interesting twists of plot. The premise here is that a Maurice, a cat, has learned to speak to humans and to rats. Maurice gathers a few rats and a boy with a talent for playing the flute and they travel from village to village with an ingenious scam. The rats make it look as though the town has a major rodent infestation. The boy comes in with an offer to rid the city of rats for a fee. The flute plays; the rats follow; and Maurice lines his pockets with a little more gold. As you have guessed by now, all does not always go smoothly. Be prepared to laugh out loud.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt got great reviews but I have trouble suggesting it to most of my students. It appears to most of them to be easier reading than it is. In fact, it is a very dark and creepy story with angry creatures, cruel humans, and much pain. The writing is classically beautiful and the story is strong. Read it and weep, but be prepared to also be a little frightened and overwhelmed by the many themes that haunt this tale.

Picture books abound with cute, charming pictures of little kittens just begging to be petted and snuggled. Happily, there are also many good picture books that include cats with character and interesting stories to tell.

My childhood favorite is Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag. I am totally enamored with the quaint black and white illustrations. The repeated phrase "Cats here, cats there; cats and kittens everywhere. Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats" trips happily of my tongue.

My favorite new cat book is harder to pick. There are too many of them.

Chester and Chester's Back by Melanie Watts have a clever premise. Melanie is trying to write a sweet story but Chester proves that cats like to get their own way. This plump (that's the nice term for a quite large cat) orange cat whips out his red marker and changes the book to suit his taste. Each time Melanie tries to bring the story back, Chester asserts his will. The battle carries the story. I am glad I don't live with Chester but I love to read about him. (Note: As I type this my cat Tsunami is deciding whether it is more comfortable to sit on the keyboard or my lap. I worry that if I give her the chance she will change what I write here. Clearly I live with a Chester in the making.)

Tsunami is a silly cat but she is not as silly as the cat in My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World by Giles Bachelet. Be sure to look at the bright, interesting pictures in this book because when I look closely I start to wonder if maybe it is not the cat who is silly. It could be the author. Something seems very different about this big, gray cat--maybe it is his long trunk.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel is an unusual alphabet book. First it looks at all the ways Kitty can be bad and then all the ways that Kitty can be good. The motivator for both behaviors is food. If you like this book, read the chapter book Bad Kitty Gets a Bath which includes some facts about cats along with a wild tale of giving a bath to a very reluctant cat.

It took a trip to New Zealand to introduce to me to the dog Hairy McClary, but I met Slinky Malinky by Lynley Dodd here in Michigan. Dodd is well loved in her home country of New Zealand for her sprightly, rhyming books about both Hairy and Slinky. Thank goodness many of her books can be found in U. S. bookstores as well. Slinky is a sleek black cat who goes out on many a mission. My favorite is when she collects (steals) all kinds of items from homes in the neighborhood. The story offers a good blend of humor and friendly adventure.

Splat, the Cat by Rob Scotten is a British import. (Scotten is a greeting card artist who also created Russell, the Sheep, a book that everyone who ever has trouble getting to sleep should read immediatley.) In this first story of Splat, our soft furry feline protagonist is setting off to his first day of school. He is frightens about what awaits him at this strange place, so takes his pet mouse along for moral support. Imagine his surprise when the teacher tells the class that cats are supposed to chase mice. The story is strong but it is the illustrations that give life to every page. I love Splat.

Anthony Browne is also from English and first and foremost an artist. I have never met a book by Browne that I didn't like. Little Beauty is touching and beautiful. It is almost of the story of Koko's Kitten because it features a gorilla who is given a kitten to love. This story is fiction, however, so it has a satisfying surprise ending.

Here are few more pictures books that are neither brand new nor old enough that parents read heard them at their parent's knees.

Here Comes the Cat by Frank Asch is the joint effort of an American and a Russian in the midst of the Cold War. It has few words, all given in Russian and English. The illustrations have a distinctly Russian feel to them. A mouse races across the pages and the countryside announcing "Here comes the cat." All the mice prepare for the cat's arrival and soon enough a page is covered by the shadow of a cat's head. This book was written to promote peace and understanding so the ending is not what you might be expecting.

The Grannyman by Judith Bryon Schachner tells the touching story of an elderly cat who is rejuvenated by the addition of a kitten to the family. Schachner also wrote the Skippyjon Jones books, but Grannyman has a lot more to it. I may have to get a kitten to keep Tsunami--and me--young.

Kat Kong by Dav Pilkey offers a wealth of word play but even the kids who don't get all of the jokes or really understand the King Kong story that it parodies love this goofy book. The illustrations are photos of adventurous mice who set off to an unexplored island. There they discover a feared giant feline who is lured to capture by the promise of tuna fish. They take the cat back and put it on display. You can guess most of what happens but not the way they finally put an end to Kat Kong's reign of terror. (Think of all the well-worn adages about cats that you know. They are probably in this book.) Pilkey also wrote the well-loved Dogzilla and the Captain Underpants books that adults love to hate and kids just love.

Finally, two picture books that show what good friends cats can be. Missing! by Jonathan Langley shows the bond between a girl and her cat. When routines change the girl suddenly can't find her cat and the cat can't find her. They look everywhere, imagining all kinds of unpleasant events. The illustrations are perfect for following the discomforts and confusions of each. Of course, all ends happily, and the journey to that happy end is well worth taking. Cat and Mouse by Tomasz Bogacki reveals that a cat and a mouse can be friends as long as the adults try to convince them otherwise. There is something about the bold illustrations that draw me into this story.

Hug your cat if you have one. Whether you own a cat or not, it is always a joy to read a good cat story. Maybe you an read it to your cat.

No comments: