I had an interesting conversation with a neuroscientist friend the other day about memory and brain functions, so I am going to qualify my next sentence: I think that I may possibly remember (but I could be inventing the memory) watching someone read this to me on TV. It might have been Polka Dot Door story time, or Reading Rainbow, or some other similar show. We definitely didn’t own this book. And, at the time, (I think that I may remember) I was sufficiently enamoured of the TV show to think that Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gág, was a wonderful book, because TV said it was.
I think that I also remember reading it in the library as a child. I took (and take) many things that I read in books at face value (for instance, I didn’t know that “suppress” didn’t mean “put in a sack and sit on” until I was well into high school. But I digress). So I used to read it and wonder the following things:
a) Do cats really drink water? (Yes).
b) Do cats really eat grass? (Not so much).
c) When all of the millions of cats killed each other on the hillside, was the hillside red with their blood and guts, or did the cats manage to eat each other very cleanly so that it was serene and quiet except for the one surviving cat? (Erm…)
I re-read the book the other day, having come across it in the library, and remembering that it is a well-known classic and a Newbery Award Winner. My questions have changed slightly:
a) Isn’t is odd that this poor old man couldn’t choose just one cat, but had to – just had to – have a million cats? (Yes).
b) Is this some kind of twisted fairy tale a la Brothers Grimm, or is it an allegory for Darwinism? (Possibly the latter. After all, the grasping old couple end up with the “best” cat of them all, thanks to the bloodbath, and that’s survival of the fittest with a vengeance!)
c) When all of the millions of cats killed each other on the hillside, was the hillside red with their blood and guts, or did the cats manage to eat each other very cleanly so that it was serene and quiet except for the one surviving cat??? (Still working on this one).
Those questions are only some of the things I find disturbing about this children’s “classic”. There is something repugnant about taking home millions and billions and trillions of anything. There’s something grossly extravagant about it, and I’m not talking an evening of pearls and champagne (which sounds like a perfectly reasonable extravagance insofar as extravagance can be reasonable). I’m talking millions and billions and trillions of evenings of pearls and champagne. Call me a communist, but shouldn’t this guy learn to share?
And the kicker is, when the millions and billions and trillions of cats slash each other to tiny bloody tidbits, the old man and his wife adopt the one that’s left without so much as blinking, and sweetly live out their lives with a fat sweet kitty. There’s some role models for you, kids. Live long and be insensitive.
Reading Ages: Pre-school and early readers
Best Thing About this Book: The author and illustrator, Wanda Gág, whose life was a hard one, and fascinating.
Rating: D. There, I said it. It avoided a full “F” for fail, because the illustrations are good. Before you get angry, just imagine a child, quietly sitting in a corner, poring over this book and wondering to themselves, “Was the hillside bloody when the old couple came out? Or was it clean?” I think the D is generous.