Archive for Sunday, October 29, 2006

Feline phenomena on display in picture books

October 29, 2006

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For a cat-alog of feline phenomena, this a good place to start, with three exceptional picture books.

"Katje the Windmill Cat," by Gretchen Woelfle with illustrations by Nicola Bayley, is based on an astonishing true story from Holland that is even more powerful in this reconstructed version.

Glowing, light-filled pictures surrounded by imitations of Delft tiles warm the story of a brave cat that saves a baby in a cradle when a dike breaks and floods a town. The book (Candlewick Press paperback, $6.99) is an affirmation of feline courage and devotion, a story that will inspire children to appreciate their pets and astound adults with an animal's ingenuity.

If the story hadn't been so carefully documented in the 1400s, it would be hard to believe. As it is, "Katje" is a tale that will awe readers. At $6.99, it is a book no parent can afford not to buy.

"The Cat Who Wouldn't Come Inside," written and illustrated by Cynthia Von Buhler (Houghton Mifflin Co., $16), also is based on a true story, focusing on a girl who builds a miniature home for a stray who won't come into her real house.

Illustrated with re-creations of the cat's mini-Victorian home, all the characters, including kitty "Olympus," were created from Sculpey clay and then scenes were photographed with a Haselblad camera.

Whimsical and sometimes startlingly lifelike, the cat and its surroundings will quickly engage readers in the tale of how hard someone worked to make this cat safe and comfortable, despite its fear and its determination to stay out in the cold and snow.

Children will watch as the cat is gradually made safe and comfortable, and rejoice when he finally makes human contact. That a stray animal warrants such efforts can have a profound effect on readers.

In "Castaway Cats" (Atheneum, $16.95), a shipwreck forces 15 diverse cats to work together to make a new home without creating a catastrophe.

Author Lisa Wheeler's puns and wordplay are ingenious. She tosses off gems like "A marmalade stood up and said, 'I think we're in a jam'" and mischievously pokes fun at a wet Angora, "who was sure her fur would shrink."

The amusing verse and the character-filled illustrations will make this a repeat favorite for youngsters, who also learn that it's possible for a disparate group to get along and thrive.

To quote the Persian, who wrapped her tattered tail around her, "We have to work together/ for divided we will fail." And the island rings with their meows of agreement, an indication of purr-fect harmony.

- Lois Henderlong is a freelance writer who has reviewed children's books for publications across the Midwest. She lives in La Porte, Ind., and can be reached at loisirene@csinet.net.

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