Thursday, September 13, 2007

Picture Book: So, What's It Like To Be A Cat?

Kuskin, Karla. 2005. SO, WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A CAT? Ill. by Betsy Lewin. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689847335.

For a class assignment, an inquisitive boy chooses a dignified cat as his interview subject. With eloquence and expressive movement, the cat addresses the questions that everyone wonders about the life of a cat, such as were does he sleep, if he likes the people he is living with, and what else does he do other than sleep?

Artist Betsy Lewin uses watercolor to create the illustrations. The white background of the page enhances the translucent colors, making their over appearance more vivid. The free and fluid movement of the watercolors truly captures the body language, moods, and facial expressions found in all felines. Half way through the book, the illustrations truly become lyrical works of art. As the cat describes how he leaps and dances, the coloring flows off into the white background, which matches the floating movement of the feline.

Though the illustrations take dominance in this picture book, they also compliment the dialogue text. As engaging as it counterpart, the text truly shows the personality of the feline character. The text is written in rhyme; however, the rhyming scheme as no true pattern. At times the rhyming has a good flow as the boy asks his question and the cat replies; however, the cadence, particularly when transitioning form one page to another, becomes interrupted. Thusly said, the book is easier to read aloud than silently in one’s head. To continue the theme of an interview, the text font that is used for the boy’s questions looks like a child’s handwriting while the text font used for the cat’s replies are more bold, which matches his personality.

Through both work of author Karla Kuskin and illustrator Betsy Lewin So, What’s It Like To Be A Cat does indeed capture the essence of the inner thoughts and life of a cat, which readers who have cats as pets will truly relate and agree with.

"Lewin's (Cat Count) title page illustration cleverly makes clear the premise of Kuskin's (Toots the Cat, reviewed above) playful poem by featuring an announcement on a schoolroom blackboard: "Today's Assignment: An Interview." A boy sits in a pupil's wooden chair with paper and pencil while a gray cat reclines in a director's chair, as if she were the prized guest of a late night show. "So, what's it like to be a cat?" asks the red-haired boy. "I'm very glad you asked me that," answers the yellow-eyed feline, and she launches into a description of her habits ("slipping out on silent feet,/ I search for something nice to eat") and the differences between cats and other creatures. The boy's questions punctuate his subject's self-centered riffs about where she sleeps and demonstrations of how well she can leap. Lewin's fetchingly feline black-lined watercolors on stark white pages model how the pet can "bounce and pounce/ and slide and sally,/ rush and run/ and twirl and spring" until she literally knocks her interviewer off his chair. The furry star is fittingly egotistical and arch, whimsical and proud. At times, the rhyming text seems a tad formal for a conversation, but throughout Lewin underscores the humor inherent in Kuskin's depiction of a cat's narcissistic existence, and the black-lined gray heroine exhibits all that a feline should be "Meow. And how." Ages 3-8."(July 25, 2005)

"PreS-Gr 3-Two award winners team up to explore playfully the essence of being a cat. The framework of an interview between a boy and a feline allows for a series of skillfully constructed calls and responses. For example, the youngster asks, "Do you have a kitty bed/with your picture at the head?" and his subject replies, "I do not have a kitty bed/to rest my kitty tail and head./I'd rather/sleep most anywhere/that's warm and soft:/a couch,/a chair,/a sleeping loft;/I'll curl up there." Within strong black lines, the loosely composed watercolor cartoons perfectly capture the range of expressions, postures, and mischievous ways of cats. The illustrations are set against crisp white backgrounds and each page offers a diverse layout that enhances the cadence of the poem. This inextricable interplay of art and text works harmoniously to provide a delightful portrait of the capricious nature of felines. A great choice for reading aloud.-Caroline Ward, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT" (August 1, 2005)

*Ask the children, who have feline pets, if their cats share the same characteristics as on the one in the book.
*Read more books in the about cats such as Have You Seen My Cat? By Eric Carle, Million of Cats by Wanda Gag, Cat Count by Betsy Lewin, and the Mr. Putter & Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant (Illustrated by Arthur Howard)

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