Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif (InfoSoup)
Miss Hazeltine opened a home for the most fearful of cats and owners brought their cats to her for help. Other cats arrived on their own, including Crumb, who was the most timid. Miss Hazeltine taught the cats lessons to help them build their confidence from Bird Basics to How Not to Fear the Broom, the hardest class of all. Even though Crumb hid under the bed, he too got Miss Hazeltine’s positive attention as she praised him for not being scared of the dark. Then one day after many, many cats had arrived, they ran out of milk. Miss Hazeltine set off in the dark to get some, but met with a fall into a ditch. When she did not return, the cats worried but they all hesitated to head out into the night. Crumb was the only one who had heard where Miss Hazeltine was going, so it was up to him to lead a rescue by cats who were once shy and fearful.
Quirky and wonderfully odd, this picture book will resonate with children who may be afraid of a variety of things. Potter’s language is filled with lovely moments of humor and equally marvelous times of quiet. Using lists of things like fears or lessons, she creates a strong storyline that is very appealing. The character of Miss Hazeltine is strongly written, a woman embracing her own unique skills. Crumb too is a small and shy cat who grows the heart of a lion by the end of the book. Filled with plenty of growth and development of characters, this is great fun to share aloud.
The illustrations by Sif add a great level of spirited oddity to the book. Miss Hazeltine is lanky and loving. The cats use their tails as much as their faces for expression. The setting ranges from the cozy house filled with cats to the deep dark strangeness of the woods. In all of them, the eyes of the cats glow and fill the setting with plenty of life.
Add this to any cat story time or a unit on bravery for a winning read! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (InfoSoup)
This playful picture book comes from the author of The Underneath and other novels for older children. This counting book does not move from one to twelve, but instead starts at three and allows a merry amount of counting along the way. Throughout the action is led by the crows who climb around on trees, sit on lines and find all sorts of treats to eat, including spicy ants. The story moves forward with counting until there are twelve crows who then discover one cat!
Appelt proves that she can be a very successful writer for any age of child with her first picture book. Her rhyme reads aloud so well that it’s impossible to read it silently to yourself. It has a great rhythm and buoyancy to it, giving the book a really dynamic energy and feel. I also enjoy a book that has counting in it, but isn’t solely a counting book. This one tells a full story in a cheery way and allows you to share it either as a story book or a concept book.
The illustrations truly make the book unique. Using light drawings with touches of red, the book pops. Readers may notice the one scarf-wearing crow who appears in each scene and then they can see what happens to the scarf after the cat appears. It’s a nice touch that may have some readers turning back to trace the scarf from the beginning of the book.
Bouncy, rhyming, fun and jaunty, this picture book has its own unique tone and feel that readers will appreciate. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Tiptop Cat by C. Roger Mader
When the cat comes to his new home, he sets out to explore. He looks around discovers that he can get outside to the balcony. And from there, he can head up and up to the rooftop where he finds a favorite spot on the top of a chimney. Then one morning as he is dozing on the balcony, a pigeon comes and lands on the railing. The cat turns into a hunter and starts stalking the bird, finally pouncing on it. But birds can fly, and cats cannot. So the cat fell, down, down, down. Falling right through an awning and into the arms of a man. No bones were broken, but the cat lost any desire to head outside. He hid in baskets, under rugs and behind curtains. But then, a crow came to the balcony and strutted up and down and once again the cat became interested in the outdoors and in his favorite high-up place.
Mader captures the essence of a domestic cat on the page. From the very first image of the cat with birthday ribbons, readers will know that this is an author who understands cats and the way they think. Mader uses very simple language in the book, letting the images tell much of the story. In fact, the illustrations are so very strong that the book could easily be wordless.
And the illustrations are stunning. They are detailed and realistic. The format switches from full page and double page spreads to panels that move the action forward in a wonderfully energetic way. As the cat moves to the fateful pounce, the panels show him edging forward, lengthening the time before the moment of movement. In the same way, the larger pages show the cat’s fall down and down, making it last and last, creating real drama on the way down.
This dazzlingly illustrated picture book will have cat lovers meowing with joy and even the smallest children leaned forward to see what befalls this fearless feline. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Cat tries out a new disguise in this follow up to Here Comes the Easter Cat. Cat is worried that he has not been nice enough to get a present from Santa. So his solution is to become Santa so that he can give himself a present. Of course, he has to learn how to climb down chimneys, which doesn’t go well. He also has to figure out how to fly without Santa’s magic reindeer. Perhaps a jet pack? He tries giving gifts to children, but they don’t seem to appreciate the fish. He even tries to decorate a tree, but it too ends in disaster. What is one naughty cat to do?
Underwood has created a delightful sequel to her first Cat book. Once again Cat uses signs to communicate with the reader. The voice of the narrator is one of an adult, making this an ideal book to be read aloud by a teacher or parent. The rather disapproving but still encouraging tone of the narrator sets up the humor perfectly and with Underwood’s clear sense of comedic timing, the results are hilarious.
Rueda’s art adds to the zany humor, often serving as the final funny note to a gag. She uses gentle colors and delicate lines, supporting the storyline clearly. Her comedic timing too is wonderfully spot on.
A very funny addition to crowded Christmas picture book shelves, save this one to share aloud on Christmas Eve. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
I Am a Witch’s Cat by Harriet Muncaster
A little girl believes that her mother is a witch and that she is her mother’s black cat. Dressed in a cat costume, the little girl gives examples of the witchy things that her mother does each day. She has potions in the bathroom that the little girl isn’t allowed to touch. She buys weird things at the grocery store. She goes magical herbs (like carrots) in her garden that she then uses to make potions in the kitchen. She has a group of friends who come over and they cackle together. All of these examples are shown in the pictures to be completely normal and easily explained. But a nice little twist at the end of the book will have readers wondering if perhaps there’s some truth to her mother being a good witch!
Told entirely in first person by the unnamed little girl, this book is jaunty and playful. It is a very positive depiction of a family of two, their interactions together glow with warmth and connection. The dynamic between the beliefs of the little girl about her mother and the mundane truths shown in the illustrations will have children trying to figure out whether the mother is a witch or not. It’s a simple premise for a book that lets the unique illustrations shine.
And what illustrations they are! Muncaster has created miniature worlds out of paper, fabric and other materials and then photographed them for the illustrations. They have a wonderful wit and dazzle to them. At first the 3D effect is subtle enough to be missed, but once it catches your eye you will be entranced with these unique and lovely illustrations.
Filled with Halloween magic, this book is one amazing treat. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Naughty Kitty! by Adam Stower
A follow up to Silly Doggy!, this book also features Lily and now a very large cat. From the end pages, readers will know that there is an animal loose from the zoo. Lily though is far too taken up with bringing her new kitten home. Her mother was sure that Kitty wouldn’t be any trouble at all. At first that was true, but when Lily left the kitten alone in the kitchen for just a moment, she returned to find it completely trashed. What Lily doesn’t know but the readers could see clearly was that the tiger that had escaped from the zoo was the one who made the mess. The same thing happened when Lily left Kitty alone in the living room. There is even a rug that is ruined with an accident of large proportions. Happily, Lily remains completely oblivious to the tiger and in the end Kitty gets the credit rather than the blame for what the tiger has done.
Stower’s humor is zingy and broad here. He doesn’t hold back on the visual jokes or on Lily’s reactions to the actually sedate little cat. Children will immediately get the humor of mistaken identity and will pay close attention to spot the tiger on the pages where Lily can’t seem to see him. The ending is completely satisfying, particularly because Lily continues to be oblivious to what is actually happening around her and readers will be surprised by a full view of the truth as well.
The art tells much of the story here with the narrative almost entirely from Lily’s perspective. The tiger can be spotted right before each disaster and right afterwards too. The illustrations are energetic and filled with action and the entire book reads like a cartoon episode.
Funny and a great read aloud, this book is sure to keep attention focused and kids giggling. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.
Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Easter books can be so filled with yellow fluffy chicks, bright Easter eggs, and soft bunnies that the become more than a bit stale. Enter the Easter Cat, a character who offers exactly what was missing in Easter books: cats! Cat wants to be able to do what the Easter Bunny does and deliver chocolate himself. But he’s going to have to figure a lot of things out before he begins: what exactly will be deliver? How will he travel? What will he wear? All of those decisions wear him out so he decides to take his eighth nap of the day, after all, he is a cat. But then he learns that the Easter Bunny never naps at all. Are all of his plans ruined? Perhaps he just needs a little help from the famous Easter Bunny himself.
Underwood of The Quiet Book has created an uproariously funny book this time. Her Cat character doesn’t speak at all, instead the reader quizzes Cat on what exactly he is doing. Cat communicates through his expressions and holding up signs most of which have cartoon drawings on them outlining his plans. The words in the book take on the tone of a parent, making it a real delight to read aloud. The reader can go from cajoling to stern and back again.
Rueda’s illustrations carry much of the storytelling since Cat doesn’t speak. She manages to convey his emotions very clearly on his face and in his stance. Cat is a very enjoyable character with big plans that aren’t very well thought out. This book on the other hand, has illustrations and words that work together flawlessly.
With the humor of Melanie Watt or Elephant and Piggie, this picture book is sure to find an eager Easter audience. Ideal for perching in baskets, this book is good enough to share all year round. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.