Bruno, the Standing Cat, illustrated by Jean Jullien, written by Nadine Robert, published by Random House Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0525647140.
How to Give Your Cat a Bath in Five Easy Steps, illustrated by John Martz, written by Nicola Winstanley, published by Tundra, ISBN: 978-0735263543.
Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever, illustrated by Dan Andreasen, written by Barbara Lowell, published by Cameron + Company, ISBN: 978-1944903589.
Truman, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, written by Jean Reidy, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1534416642, to be released: July 9, 2019.
Owning a pet can be a joyful experience–or sometimes a challenging one. This lively, lovely quartet of stories celebrate the special and sometimes strange friendships children can have with their pets. All four of them amuse and provide genuine uplift thanks to witty, eye-catching illustrations and compelling texts custom made for energetic storytimes.
I have used Bruno, the Standing Cat in several of my programs and the kids love the absurd twists writer Nadine Robert throws their way. One day in his house, a boy hears an insistent meowing nearby. When he opens the door there’s a box marked “Bruno” on his doorstep. Out pops a cat who can, yes, stand (and can do so much more we soon learn). The kid’s pal Pam stops by and proceeds to ask him questions about the feline. And every answer is an absurd one. For example, when Pam wonders if Bruno munches on normal cat food, we learn that the cat loves to chew bubble gum…upside down. Jean Jullien’s hilarious illustrations with their bold lines add to the sense of giddy anarchy.
If Bruno the cat races from one situation to the next, the turtle star of the delightful upcoming Truman achieves things both modest and great slowly yet effectively. This sweet (but never saccharine) tale sneaks up on you and has a quietly hilarious punchline. Essentially a warm tale about separation anxiety, the book introduces readers to a girl who loves her pet turtle and he adores her. He notices that she’s giving him extra treats and she seems to be leaving him behind for the WHOLE day. She is heading towards her first day of school. Not acceptable! Truman decides that he will escape his aquarium and follow her there, facing his fears as he does so. What’s great about Jean Reidy’s book is it stays true to Truman’s turtle nature: he doesn’t get very far physically. Illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins does a fabulous job chronicling his trek. And yet for Truman this journey helps him emotionally. It’s an especially big day for him and readers happily share it with him.
One of my favorite pieces of backmatter can be found in the charming Sparky & Spike, which tells a fictionalized account of Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz’s childhood bond with his pet dog Spike (the inspiration for Snoopy). At the end of the book, illustrator Dan Andreasen shares an actual 1975 letter of encouragement he received, as a child, from Schulz himself (a response to the boy’s fan letter). So it’s no surprise that Andreasen illustrates this account with love and heart. Writer Barbara Lowell does a beautiful job showing how Schulz, nicknamed Sparky, loves spending time with his most unusual pet. This pooch knows how to tell time, recognizes several words, and has a most unusual diet. Sparky also loves reading the comics and wishes to be a cartoonist (in a smart touch, Andreasen employs comic strip-style panels on many spreads). A melancholy loneliness hangs over some of the telling, with Sparky feeling alone at school even though his peers love his cartoons. A neat twist involving Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! dominates the book’s final section, bringing things to a wonderful, satisfying close. In addition to being an absorbing story, the book serves as a highly informative look at a beloved cartoonist.
The first three books discussed here all show the fun of being a pet owner. Meanwhile, although there’s a love between child and cat, the playfully subversive How to Give Your Cat a Bath in Five Easy Steps captures the pratfalls of doing a seemingly simple, much-needed task. Writing in the style of a instruction manual with succinct deadpan language, author Nicola Winstanley speaks directly to the reader, losing patience as the purple-haired kid doesn’t quite follow or understand the directions that turn out not to be so clear after all. “Step One. Fill the bathtub with warm water./That is too much water./Put a little warm water in the bath./Sigh. Step One. Put a little warm water in the bath. The water should come up to your’s cat knees.” The kid replies “knees?” Meanwhile, illustrator John Martz amusingly shows the cat constantly escaping. The task becomes increasingly impossible. The girl keeps needing milk and cookies to recharge. Messes are made. More than five steps are needed. What I love about this book is it doesn’t end sweetly with the cat begging for friendship or forgiveness after wreaking such havoc; there isn’t a saccharine hug. Instead, there’s a witty resolution that lets cats be cats and kids go grrrrrrr. Hilarious.