In the city, windows light./ How many cats will dance tonight?
Last week, I was surprised at work by a package from a book publisher. I opened it, expecting yet another law book and was over-the-moon pleased to see Cats’ Night Out, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada. (I should probably mention that Vickyandpolly is not that famous…rather, I have a connection who is something of an enabler with respect to my collecting illustrated books).
Me being me, I walked around with a silly grin on my face for about an hour, and then worried about whether or not our integrity would suffer as a result of the receipt of such…well…swag. And then I thought – well…at least someone out there is suggesting books for us to read. And we can always clearly state when we are reviewing at the poking or prodding of any other entity (including siblings, friends, and small children). So stated; and here is the instigator of my musings:
I opened this book with mixed emotions for the following reasons:
- I was really excited about the book.
- Muted orange on brown is not too exciting.
- There are clearly incandescent lights on the cover. Not sure what I think about those…exciting? Or depressing?
- The cats all look a bit bored.
- The author knows how to use her apostrophes! Thank. goodness.
Then I started reading. And you know what? By about page 6, I was really into it.
First of all, I like the rhymes. They are short, they are easy, and for the most part they are easy to read. I often find it difficult to quickly read-aloud rhyming books where there are too many syllables per line. (Authors! If you want to write a rhyming picture book for children, for goodness’ sake, keep it simple and leave out the spit-inducing difficult words!) Cats’ Night Out has some lines like that (“Fourteen fox-trot nose to nose dancing swiftly in evening clothes”). But other lines are clear and clean (“Ten cats line-dance, keep the beat in rhinestone boots on Easy Street”).
Second? I like the dancing. This is a book for kids who love to move. Each set of rhymes has a different set of cats wearing different clothes and dancing a different dance. This is great material for little imaginations! Samba, boogie, tango, tap, line-dance, twist, fox-trot, rumba, polka, conga, waltz…who knew there were so many dances in the world? And now, with the magic of YouTube, you can actually look all of these up (and more, oh, so many more) and send the kids dancing off into the living room for hours. Not exactly pre-bedtime reading, maybe, but still has its uses.
Third? The cats do, eventually, stop looking bored. And when they do, you (or I) realize that they aren’t bored. They are just being cats – expressionless, mysterious, cool, calm, dancing cats.
A note on the illustrations: I had never heard of Jon Klassen before this book, but I checked out his website at burstofbeaden.com, and I have to say…I like it. His work is whimsical, understated, evocative without being overly emotional (if that makes any sense) and is worth checking out. My favourite set of cats in this book are the two cats who samba on page 3. The dancers are quietly intimate and sexy, which I find amazing in such a simple drawing. It probably helps that you can’t see their faces, so they don’t look bored. And did I mention that Jon Klassen won the 2010 Governor General’s Award for illustration of a children’s book? But I didn’t let that influence me (too much). It was the website and his illustration “Storming the Capital” that won me over.
Reading Ages: Preschool and early kindergarten. The book has very, very few words. Older kids might get bored a bit quickly unless you’ve got them dancing. But the book also has very muted illustrations, so very little kids might not be attentive.
Strangeness: Why do polka-ing cats wear flip-flops and lederhosen? Anyone who has danced the polka knows that it would be very hard to do in flip flops. And I have yet to see a person in lederhosen and flip-flops. And why do tango dancers wear red capes? Are they also superhero-cats?
Most suggestive line: “Sixteen rumba in the dark, twitching silk bottoms through the park.” I’ll just bet they do!
Rating: B+ for illustrations and high dance content, B- for difficult rhymes and strangeness.