Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

In The Eyes Of The Beholder

When individuals use their eyes there is a mixture of factors determining their perceptions.  The weather, time of day and the season affect the light and shadows.  Even if an image remains fixed the amount of time given to viewing it can determine what is seen or not seen. How often have you looked at something a second or even a third time and noticed a detail you did not perceive at first?  A whole host of life experiences decide what we see.  This wide range of emotions is attached to each element in our line of vision, even when we focus on a single portion.

Sometimes the emotional attachment is so strong it may keep us from even taking a peek at something or we may spend hours gazing at it.  They All Saw A Cat (Chronicle Books, August 30, 2016) written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (Some Bugs, One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree, and Some Pets) is an insightful exploration of alternating viewpoints.  It entices us in the most welcoming manner to discover.

The cat walked through the world,
with its whiskers, ears, and paws...

The first being to see the cat is a child.  Our perspective on our pets is definitely slanted.  They are a part of our family.  The cat is seen as more fluffy and cuddly than the sleek, feline it is in truth.  As you might surmise, the family dog is not happy to see the cat, viewing it as an evil shadow of itself.

Once out in the world the cat encounters other animals who view it as dinner or a monster.  The physical characteristics of sight may create a series of dots forming the cat. Or can you imagine seeing things as if you are wearing night vision goggles?  What if everything had no color at all?

 The distance from the cat shapes the size.  A bird flying above will not see the same cat as a flea embedded in its fur.  Perhaps an animal will not use eyes to see the cat.  They may feel its presence through vibrations felt in the ground that surrounds them.

However the worlds' occupants see a cat, no view will surprise the cat (or us) more than the final illustration.  This closing perspective is sure to garner laughter as others have done.  What a marvelous world this is!

Regardless of how much you may know of Brendan Wenzel from interviews, this book presents his respect and love of the animal world through the inclusiveness in the narrative.  Domesticated animals familiar to readers, cat, dog and goldfish, and those in the wild, fox, bee, bird, snake, worm and others are given equal measure.  He has carefully selected those a cat might naturally meet.

The repetition of key phrases three times supplies a storytelling cadence.  One of two repeating phrases intensifies a significant pause.  When Wenzel chooses to list all the animals as part of the story, it gives us another time to pause, identifying each one.  This type of pacing makes the final question even more important.

The snow white canvas draws our attention immediately to the cat on the front.  On the back, to the left, the initial phrase from the book appears. The blue from the title text is the shade used on the background for the book case with the cat in white.  It is a striking reversal in the use of color.  The opening and closing endpapers supply readers with two different viewpoints of the cat's fur. On the title page Brendan Wenzel has substituted the image of the cat with the collar and ringing bell.  The illustrations seen here and throughout the book are

rendered in almost everything imaginable, including colored pencils, oil pastels, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, Magic Markers, good old number 2 pencils, and even an iBook.

Continuing with the white background for the first few pages leads readers into the bright and vivid portraits which follow, some on single pages, others across two pages. Wenzel concludes with the same canvas bringing us full circle.  Important to the narrative his perspectives shift pulling us close to the cat or moving farther away.  We become those beings looking at the cat.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is for the bat.  Deep dark hues of blue provide the background for the night sky and flora.  Small lighter dots of blue form the stars.  In the far right-hand corner a bat hovers looking down.  The cat is "seen" through echolocation which Wenzel depicts as a series of larger and small white dots in the shape of the cat.

They All Saw A Cat written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel is a marvelous work of art inviting us to participate in the life of other beings.  It increases our appreciation for animal life.  It adds to our respect for artistic expression.  I know it will prompt exploration of each of these animals and how they perceive their world through their senses. I can't imagine a bookshelf, personal or professional, without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Brendan Wenzel and his other work please access his website by following the link attached to his name.  The publisher, Chronicle Books, provides us with an activity kit and a discussion guide.  Brendan Wenzel is interviewed at twenty by jenny and The Children's Book Review.  This title is featured at teacher librarian and author, Carter Higgins, Design of the Picture Book.  It is the topic of conversation in an All the Wonders, Episode 285 podcast between teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner and Brendan Wenzel.  This book is showcased with Emily Arrow's new song for They All Saw A Cat.

They All Saw A Cat is discussed at The Horn Book's Calling Caldecott.

Enjoy the book trailer.


  1. Such a gorgeous book, & brilliant on many levels. LOVE Brendan Wenzel's art!! His creatures are humorous and whimsical!

  2. It is a brilliant take on perceptions Maria. I, too, love Brendan Wenzel's unique work. His illustrations in Angela DiTerlizzi's books are delightful.