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.