Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Collection of Cat Books

I recently read a handful of cat picture books, so I thought I would review them all together. There are of course dozens, possibly hundreds, of other cat picture books out there, so maybe I will do some more in the future. I rated them on a scale from 1 to 4 paws. Though none reached the four-paw pinnacle, they each held some merit.

“Leo the Magnificat” by Ann M. Martin with illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully

One day a stray cat shows up at a church and makes himself at home. Mrs. Moody, the church secretary, cares for him and names him Leo the Magnificat. Everyone at the church loves Leo, and he keeps them all company during church services and at covered-dish dinners. Leo even has a special spot on the front pew and sometimes “sings” with the choir. Though Mrs. Moody is worried he will wander away, Leo never strays far from the church, his home for twelve years. This heartwarming tale, which is based on a true story, of a friendly cat that came to stay shows how one animal can touch many lives. The illustrator captures the cat’s facial expressions and personality well. Because of the sad ending to this story, I would recommend it for older readers (ages 7 and up).
Martin, Ann. Leo the Magnificat. New York: Scholastic, 1996.

“What Cats Want for Christmas” by Kandy Radzinski (author/illustrator)
This picture book is a collection of cats’ letters to Santa, each accompanied by a drawing of a cat enjoying the present they asked for. The cats ask for very cat things, such as birds (“something sweet, that went tweet tweet”), food (“a big silver dish filled with little silver fish”) or a nice place to sleep (“A soft blanket of fowl wings”). The final cat asks for a home so he won’t be lonely any more. The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and readers may enjoy all the different colors and patterns of cats portrayed here. However, I didn’t particularly like the text of the book. Each letter is written in rhyme, and the meter is often uneven so it doesn’t read smoothly. I also don’t like that some of the cats want things made from dogs. I assume the author intended it to mean just the dog’s hair, but I’m not sure why a cat would want a dog’s hair sweater or rug. The cats also frequently wish for deceased snacks, and I’m not sure a child reader would like imagining dead mice and birds being devoured by a cute kitty. All in all, I loved the pictures but not the text of this book.
Radzinski, Kandy. What Cats Want for Christmas. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2007.

“Cross-Country Cat” by Mary Calhoun with illustrations by Erick Ingraham
I picked up this book at the library while shelving one day because I remember it from my childhood and haven’t read it in years. It is the story of a cat named Henry, who is described as “a hind-leg walker.” While on a ski vacation with his human family, “The Kid” (as Henry calls him) makes Henry a set of cross-country skis out of some old roof shingles. When The Kid puts Henry into the skis, Henry falls face first into the snow and thinks the people are crazy for wanting to pursue such a hobby. However, when Henry is accidently left behind at the cabin and can’t get back inside, he realizes the only way to get home is by learning to use those blasted skis. Ingraham’s soft illustrations detail Henry’s journey through the snowy forests and hills as he skis along with pine boughs for poles. Cross-Country Cat is a fun adventure story of a cat overcoming a challenge and learning a new skill. I don’t know that this book would get published today, however, because it has a lot of text and the current trend is to make picture books as short as possible. I can see some spots an editor could cut for space, but the story is still a good one for a read-aloud to an older child with a longer attention span or for an advanced independent reader.
Calhoun, Mary. Cross-Country Cat. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1979.

“Chester” by Mélanie Watt (author/illustrator)
Chester is a trouble-maker. All Mélanie wants to do is write a nice little story about a mouse, but Chester comes in with his red marker and changes everything. He wants the story to be about himself, not some boring mouse. But in the end, Mélanie will have her revenge by giving Chester exactly what he wants…plus a little something extra. In this creative picture book, we see a strong-willed cat duel it out with the book’s author for control. Young readers will likely laugh out loud at the selfish Chester and his need to be the star. Readers who enjoy “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” by Mo Willems should like the humor in this book. Reading this book could even encourage children to create their own stories (though hopefully not by writing in other books with a red marker).  This book seems like it would be difficult to read out loud, however, since the author and Chester interrupt each other and speakers are never attributed, so young listeners could get confused about what character is talking at a given moment. The reader would have to be careful to distinguish the two voices well for the listener. This book is probably better suited to an independent reader.
Watt, Mélanie. Chester. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2007.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“The Lost Hero” (The Heroes of Olympus #1) by Rick Riordan

Age: Middle Grade/ Young Adult
Genre: Fiction, fantasy

After finishing the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Heroes of Olympus series is the next step. It is a continuation of the stories of the demi-gods at Camp Half-Blood and beyond. I thought it would directly follow the same characters, but this was not the case (as anyone can tell by reading the book’s synopsis). Instead we start the story with Jason, who has woken up on a school bus next to a girl who claims to be his girlfriend. He has a bad case of amnesia and though everyone knows him, he has no idea who he is. The guy claiming to be his best friend, Leo, and his girlfriend, Piper, prove themselves to be friends to him quickly when they help him fight some evil storm spirits during a field trip. All three know something is different about them, but they don’t know what until they are taken away to Camp Half-Blood and filled in on the whole Mount Olympus in America and godly-parent thing. Meanwhile, our friend Annabeth from the Percy Jackson series is trying to find her boyfriend (Percy), who has suddenly and inexplicably gone missing. With many familiar characters and a whole new problem to figure out, The Lost Hero proves an easy transition into this new series.

I wasn’t crazy about Riordan’s choice to use three points of view in this book. Switching point of view is a difficult task for the writer and the reader as it can easily lead to confusion. However Riordan carries it off well. A few changes were not as clear as they could have been, but otherwise he kept the voices different enough for us to understand and recognize the individual characters. I didn’t feel as connected to these characters as I had to Percy, and I think that’s because I was trying to focus on three instead of just one. I would say that was the biggest sacrifice when sharing the main character’s spot. The back and forth with Roman and Greek names was a bit confusing at times as well. But the story moved well and I wanted to keep reading until the last page. I am more excited about the next book as it goes back to Percy’s point of view.

A note on the audio version: I had listened to the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series on audio, but when I tried to do the same with the Heroes of Olympus, I was disappointed. The company switched narrators, and I didn’t like the changes the new one instituted. He changed the pronunciation of some character’s names slightly (but I found it annoying) and made Annabeth’s character sound completely different, which I couldn’t get past. She used to be very spunky and he made her sound sad and wistful. I realize she is dealing with worrying about Percy in this book, but it didn’t come off in the right way. So I gave up after the first CD and switched to reading the hard copy of this book.

Bibliographic Information:
Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus #1). New York, NY: Disney Hyperion Books, 2010.