Children's Picture Book Trend for 2011: Cats?

Filed under: Books for Kids

Every so often in the world of children's picture books, a specific animal species will unexpectedly jump into the spotlight.

Sometimes you can trace the inspiration for the Flavor-of-the-Month critter back to a popular film, like when "March of the Penguins" gave rise to a slew of penguin-led books for a while. Other times, such as when we saw a spate of crocodile books a few years back, there's no telling why the imaginations of multiple authors get focused on a particular beast.

Well, we're only a few weeks into 2011, but the animal taking the most starring roles so far seems to be the oh-so pedestrian cat. Cats are such old standbys that it's hard to get excited about them. But in the right hands, a cat story can be quite a treat.

"Dear Tabby" by Carolyn Crimi and David Roberts (Harper, $17)
The story here is related through a series of letters –- those written to a feline advice columnist, and the ones she taps out in reply. As the book starts, the animal quandaries (from a lovelorn skunk, a stressed out groundhog, an annoyingly talkative parrot, and more) and Tabby's responses to them feel like cute little jokes. But as you move on, you realize there's a real plot here -– one that takes some clever and emotionally moving turns. A few classified ads and newspaper articles get interspersed among the letters to fill out story details. And by the time you're done, you've had a very fulfilling reading experience (with some very nice, perfectly suited artwork as well). This is one of those picture books that makes you think it's going to be a one-joke story based around a titular pun, but ends up being so much more.

"Cat Secrets" by Jef Czekaj (Balzer + Bray, $17)
This is the kind of book that, as a parent, you either love or hate to read aloud. Because it's all dialogue, all comic-style word bubbles. These books demand not just reading, but acting. They beg for different voices for all the different characters. Depending on who you are, you either jump at the opportunity to put on a little one-person show for your kids, or you loathe beyond all reason the very idea of doing. If you're the latter kind, you've heard all you need to hear about this book. For those who enjoy the all-dialogue reads, this one is short and quick, but fun. And it calls for your kids to interact as well. The cats in the book are trying to make sure, before they reveal their secrets, that no one reading isn't a cat. So they'll put your kids through a series of test to prove their feline-ness. It's cute. And the ending may have a surprising effect on your kids (especially if read at bedtime).

"The Best Birthday Ever! By Me (Lana Kittie)" by Charise Mericle Harper (Disney-Hyperion, $16)
This is really a book about birthday parties, so Lana Kittie didn't need to be a cat. She just happens to be one. Which doesn't mean that human children (and their parents) won't relate to the adorably funny humor bits in here. The basic idea behind the book is Lana instructing other kids how to practice for an upcoming birthday party, so they can insure they'll do things right when the big day arrives. Pointers include everything from not treating your guests to a concert of songs you made up yourself to making sure that any guest who may accidentally blow out the candles is seated far from the cake.

Dark Horse Candidate: The Skunk

"A Pet for Petunia" by Paul Schmid (Harper, $13)
If you noticed, I mentioned that there's a skunk in "Dear Tabby" (above). Well, a skunk is the titular pet here, too. Schmid's minimalist, mostly black-and-white art is a perfect fit for a good skunk story. Here, we've got a young girl with a cute plush skunk toy, who begs to get a real skunk as a pet. She refuses to believe that the animal will smell bad. And of course, she eventually finds out the truth, firsthand (firstnose?). Personally, I'd like to see the skunks overtake the cats for animal of the year. It would be a breath of fresh air.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.