Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Cats Are Out Of The Bag

For whatever reason, cats like me.  It would make perfect sense to me that I would give off some type of distinctive smell that says, "I am a totally, over-the-top, lover of dogs so don't bother", but they continue to come to me if we are remotely near one another. What I do know about cats, having never lived with one, has come from reading.

I have the utmost respect for the majesty and prowess of all the big cats; mourning their diminishing numbers on our planet as addressed in author Martin Jenkins' and illustrator Vicky White's Can We Save The Tiger?  When their much smaller domestic relatives become comedic characters portrayed in Splish, Splash, Splat! by Rob Scotton, Fuddles by Fran Vischer, Skippyjon Jones: Class Action by Judy Schachner or Dog In Charge by K. L. Going with illustrations by Dan Santat, I'm chuckling on the inside if not bursting into laughter.  When I read and reread Cat Talk (Katherine Tegen Books) by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest with illustrations by Barry Moser, I came to appreciate their true nature and individuality.

Tough Tom
You opened the window 
And I walked in.
I didn't want to
But it was cold outside
And dark.
And I was hungry.

You opened the window
And I walked in
With a torn ear
And a scratch on my nose.
It was warm
And you had food
And a blanket. ...

Tough Tom is the first of thirteen poems, introducing readers to unique felines named in each poem's title.  Young and old, tall and small, white, black, and all the cat colors in-between, we get to meet them. Quirky personalities, bold, shy, playful, arrogant and slightly sly emanate from the printed page with clever clarity.

A barn cat named Lily thinks her best friend might be a mouse.  The sound of running water in the bathtub has Alice nearly jumping in to join the bubbly fun.  Henry can't get enough of his girl or her wedding gown; it makes the nicest spot for sleeping.

Surely authors Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest must have some kind of magical communication connection to the family of cats to have conveyed them so well.  Or perhaps as authors they both have a very keen sense of observation and the ability to transfer those into the pleasing poetic free verse found in this title.  Their selection of words, how they are joined to complete a thought and their placement on each line depicts the essence of cat; an unmistakable rhythm in their movements and mannerisms.  Choosing to use the voice of each cat in the individual selections makes the reader feel like they are in a private conversation getting the inside scoop.  Here is an example at the end of the poem titled Peony.

... You can hardly see my nose
They brush me to keep out tangles and ticks.
What no one knows
Is that under my big coat
I am

Opening the front and back jacket and matching cover, readers will be entranced with the nearly photographic quality of Barry Moser's paintings; you can almost feel the softness of the fur, hear the gentle purring.  On the back is a single cat looking over his shoulder beneath the poem Simon printed in its entirety.  The blue in the title, Cat Talk, is replicated in the opening and closing endpapers. On the first title page under the title is the back of a cat seated in repose.  With a page turn on the left is the front of the same cat, Tough Tom, opposite a more expansive title page.

The illustrations for Cat Talk were executed in transparent watercolor on paper hand made at the Hayle Mill in Kent, England, for the Royal Watercolour Society.  For six of the poems Moser has extended the picture across the gutter into a third of the opposite page with a clean edge creating a column for the text.  For the other seven his visuals span the two pages leaving liberal amounts of white space to showcase the poetry.  Whether it's a cat creeping through an open kitchen window, contentedly smiling with a mouse on its head, bed sheets with three sets of feet (one feline) protruding from the end or a sleepy cat lying next to a computer mouse on a desk, each are shown in beautiful detail.  I think my favorite is of Henry, a charcoal cat, eyes closed on his back nestled in the folds of the white dress.

The first person (cat) poetic free verse written by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest illustrated with the warm, softly rendered paintings of Barry Moser are a purr-fect pairing in Cat Talk. You don't have to be a friend of felines to appreciate this beautiful volume.  It would be outstanding to use during National Poetry Month along with Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech or with Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told In Haiku by Lee Wardlaw with illustrations by Eugene Yelchin.

Please follow this link to the publisher web site to get a glimpse inside the book.  The links embedded in the author and illustrator names provide more information about them and their considerable work.

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