You might have heard about this book.
You might have read the fascinating and buzz-inducing article on its acquisition.
All of those people saw a cat. And I did too!
But somehow, Brendan Wenzel actually wrote a cat.
Let’s break it down.
The opening spread is an introduction to the character, his journey, and his senses. The art asks us to follow, but so do the words.
Read this out loud.
The cat walked through the world,
with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .
You can hear the hiss of a cat in the final sound of the words in that second line. Its, whiskers, ears, and paws. The words are the cat. The cat is in the words.
Even better, look at those three words that begin with w. Walked, world, with, and whiskers. Not only is that a lovely example of alliteration, it’s also paced in such a way that each W sound becomes the quiet pitter-patter of our cat’s paws. Read it out loud again. Do you hear how with drops out a bit, but each of the other Ws are stressed beats?
And we know cats are observers and quiet hunters, so it’s a perfect starting sound that’s both nonchalant and predatory.
Once the reader has followed that cat into the book, we are treated to a true visual feast. It’s a remarkable look at perspective and interacting with the world. Our cat shifts from fearful to fierce over the pages. Isn’t that how we all see the world?
But let’s take a look at the creatures who see the cat. The book is paced in threes, a tried-and-true structure in many forms of storytelling.
Up first, the child, the dog, and the fox.
Look at how those connect:
And then Wenzel revisits the opening, reminding us of the cat’s mission, giving us a brief respite from the adventure and another opportunity to experience that rich language.
Listen to those sounds: short i, the ow of mouse (a dipthong, /au/!), and a long e.
It’s almost a meow. Can you hear it?
And then we’ve got a real romp.
This time, a bird, a flea, a snake, a skunk, a worm, and a bat.
Bird follows bee.
Flea reminds of that bee too.
A snake, a skunk.
A worm from down low, a bat from up high.
And a bat, our (almost) final watcher, perfectly rhymes with cat.
You’re going to hear a lot about the visual acuity of this book, and that is wholly deserved. But take note of the text. It’s also seeing things differently. And saying them, and hearing them, and experiencing them. This is the beauty of the picture book, and this is a spectacular one.
Thank you to Chronicle Books for the interior images in this post.