They All Saw a Cat

CAT_INSTA

by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books, 2016)

You might have heard about this book.

You might have read the fascinating and buzz-inducing article on its acquisition.

You might have heard Matthew Winner and Brendan Wenzel in conversation here. (And do if you haven’t! It’s a treat.)

You might have seen Emily Arrow’s super sweet song and video. (Kid-tested and approved in my library!)

You might have seen many, many bloggers invite the Caldecott (and Geisel!) committee to the party on this one. (See here, here, here, and here.)

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.

dog

Look at how those connect:

childdogfox

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.

And then:

fish mouse Listen to those sounds: short i, the ow of mouse (a dipthong, /au/!), and a long e.

fishmousebee

It’s almost a meow. Can you hear it?

And then we’ve got a real romp.

bird

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.

birdbee

fleabee

snakeskunk

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.

ch1

Thank you to Chronicle Books for the interior images in this post.

7 Comments

  • Marilyn Garcia
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the post, Carter. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. I have a daughter majoring in early childhood education. I think I’m buying a copy for me and for her. 😉

  • Posted October 4, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    This is such a fantastic way to look at this book, Carter!! You know me, always so focused on the illustrations, so this was such a treat!

  • Posted October 4, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Lovely change of point of view with this review, Carter! I enjoyed exploring the sounds with you.

  • Posted October 4, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Exquisite dissection!
    Thanks Carter.

  • Posted October 4, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    This is a brilliant book, and I’m happy you brought to out attention to the text as well. Thanks for the post!

  • Posted October 4, 2016 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Carter, what a fantastic analysis. Thank you for this. The book is so deserving of praise and admiration.

  • Posted October 15, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I borrowed this book from the library and as soon as I finished reading it, I ordered my own copy, because it is such a great book. An instant classic on so many levels.

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