Regardless of how many times it has been attempted, we all continue to try to get as close to something in the natural world as we possibly and safely can. We know deep down inside that as soon as our nearness makes the creature feel unsafe, it will leave. Most people who have a sincere respect and affection for all living things in nature try to convey their true intentions of "do no harm" but the need for survival is fortunately a strong instinct.
There is a long standing notion, with good reason, cats can't help but stalk birds and birds will keep their distance. Spot, the Cat (Little Simon, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, March 1, 2016) conceived and illustrated by Henry Cole begins with a bird and of course, a cat. It is a quest, a tour, and a search. Without words readers can see how many stories become parts of a larger story.
Spot, the cat, aptly named for a large spot on his fur, lives in an apartment with his young male human. Curious about a bird outside one day, and unable to resist the lure of an open window, the cat leaves. Climbing down a vine and a handrail, the feline finds himself in the thick of the hustle and bustle of city life. Back at the apartment the boy notices immediately his companion has left.
As the cat wanders the sidewalks and streets, the boy wastes no time in printing flyers about his missing friend, posting them as often as he can along those same sidewalks and streets. We follow as Spot leaves the residential area with neighborhood shops and crosses a nearby river on a stony bridge. He and the boy are seen in a park full of people flying kites, bicycling, jogging, lying in the sun, walking their dogs and a wayward child finds a way to play in the fountain, to a caregiver's dismay.
Surely someone at the weekend Farmers Market will have seen Spot but the boy has no luck there. Running past sightseers at the museum, calling for Spot, leaves the child increasingly disheartened. Spot, on the other hand, is enjoying people watching.
Outside the arches of two different stations the boy seeks his beloved pal. Spot, the bird long forgotten, is on a mission. It seems that all roads do lead to Rome, or is that home?
A panoramic, intricate portrayal of row houses and apartments on the matching dust jacket and book case introduces readers to the wonder awaiting them within the pages of this book. The first image here extends from edge to edge, left to right, back to front across the spine. (Be sure to run your hands over the embossed dust jacket. Children really love this added feature.) We meet Spot, the cat, and his boy. One is on the roof, peering through a telescope and the other is looking upward from their apartment window. You simply have to look at every home, inside every window and along the roof tops. Another hue of blue, a light turquoise rather than the dusty sky blue on the jacket and case, provides the background for the opening and closing endpapers.
On the initial title page, Henry Cole, gives us a close-up view of Spot, curled and sleeping. I really love the way the title can be read two ways. It names the cat but also invites us to look for the cat within each image. Cole starts the story on the more formal title page with Spot staring at the bird perched on the edge of one of their flower pots outside on the ledge.
Most of the illustrations span two pages. The single page pictures or smaller images grouped together are loosely framed in white space. The fine lines, hatching, shading and care given to the tiniest of details are impeccable. You will find yourself more than once reaching out to touch the pages; sure you will be able to feel the fabric on the sofa, the roughness of leaves, the brick on the buildings, the grass in the park or the splash of water from a fire hydrant.
Each scene is vividly depicted to the extent you can almost hear the chatter of people, the sound of cars and honking horns, the clicking of a scooter on a sidewalk, the splash of waves along a river bank as a barge passes, the flap of kites in a stiff breeze or the noises associated with travel within a train station. Each person, their facial expressions and body movements are the smaller stories within the larger story. There is potential bursting forth from every illustration. Careful readers will notice specific writing on the side of a truck or the pictures and words on the banners hanging in the front of the museum.
One of my many favorite illustrations is of the Farmers Market. All the varied vendors welcome us as readers or as possible shoppers or wanderers in the scene itself. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, and eggs are plentiful. All types of people are buying and selling. Two dogs, one on a leash, are part of the scene. At this point the boy is very close to Spot as he shows a flyer to a merchant. Spot casually walks away on the other side of the truck, over boxes of produce.
Each page turn is a work of art worthy of framing in Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole. I can only imagine the time dedicated to creating each picture, the delicacy of each creating warmth and charm. By requesting us, without words, to search for Spot along with his boy, we are active participants in this story, making the ending all the sweeter.
To discover more about Henry Cole, his other publications and works of art please visit his website by following the link attached to his name. He includes his creative process and some fun activities too. To view interior illustrations (three including one of my favorites) please follow this link to the publisher's website.