The delight is in the details (and the cats)

OllieA few posts ago,  Kevan Atteberry mentioned that cats didn’t — how did he put it? — gun his scooter.

But, yet, he found himself really liking Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret.

Cats do gun my scooter. A lot.

Check out Exhibit A (Ollie) and Exhibit B (Sunny) to the left.  (That kid with Sunny? She guns my scooter, too!)

But, loving cats doesn’t mean I love all cat books. I’ve read many that made me react with indifference.

sonia-sunnyBut, because I love cats so much, it’s always exciting to find a cat book that I also love.

And, recently, I did.

Meet MISS HAZELTINE’S HOME FOR SHY AND FEARFUL CATS written by Alicia Potter and illustrated by Birgitta Sif. (And artfully published by Alfred A. Knopf earlier this year.)

CatsIt’s the story of a woman who opens up her home to shy and fearful cats. She teaches them how to be brave only to find they can  rescue her from the things she fears most.

Told like that, it might sound like a rather basic story. The magic in this book is in the details.

There’s not one detail here that doesn’t serve a purpose.

Take the broom. At first, it appears as a joke. Miss Hazeltine teaches her charges important skills. (Pouncing. Purring. Climbing up. Climbing down.) And the last task to master is How Not to Fear the Broom. As a cat owner, I laughed and thought it was a nice touch. But that’s not the last we hear of that broom.

When Miss Hazeltine goes missing — egad! — the shy and fearful cats set out to find her. And, what do they take as a weapon? The broom, of course. And when they find Miss Hazeltine and get her out of the ditch with a sore ankle, what makes a most excellent crutch? That scary broom.

Similar things happen with mushrooms and owls. Those are two things the brave Miss Hazeltine is scared of. She shares that information with the most fearful of her cats. And, when Miss Hazeltine falls into the ditch, what is she surrounded by? Owls and mushrooms. And, when her cavalcade of kittens, led by the most fearful, comes to rescue her, what do its members do? Stare down the mushrooms and purr to drown out the owls, what else?

This book also uses details well in word choice. When Miss Hazeltine instructs her cats, they lap up every word, even though milk is not involved on that page. And the skills Miss Hazeltine teaches — hold your tail high, arch your back, think good thoughts — are echoed when Miss Hazeltine is scared and when the cats form their rescue posse.

This book is a work of art. There’s not a wrong word in it.

Get it.

Read it out loud.

Read it silently.

Notice how tightly it’s paced, how sly bits of humor are laced in seamlessly and how every single phrase and plot point sets itself up to be mentioned again as part of the most-satisfying resolution.

Well done, Miss Hazeltine and team. Well done. (Oh, and thanks for the really cute cats.)

18 Comments:

  1. I love this book, too, Pat. For all the reasons you mentioned. Not a wasted word. And so much heart! I’m so happy to see this book out in the world! The illustrations are wonderful, too. And don’t just love the name, Miss Hazeltine? I do. Another perfect choice by Alicia.

  2. This book sounds delightful. I will definitely check it out. Thanks for the post.

  3. Avatar
    Lori Mozdzierz

    Thanks for the share, Pat! This book sounds delightful. As a cat lover, the title and cover art makes me want to open the book. Look forward to the read.

  4. This sounds like a wonderful book. Love the cover! Thanks for telling us about it.

  5. Wondrous! The title alone makes me want it. Putting it on my must-own list.

  6. I’m going to put this on my library holds list right now! Thanks!

  7. Going to check this one out. This will make an excellent mentor text.

  8. This is a favorite book of mine. Your review of it is spot-on! I grew up surrounded by cats–wonderful, curious, finicky, independent, shy cats. After reading this book at the library, I bought it to add to my wonderful picture book collection of mentor texts.

  9. Looking forward to checking this one out — thanks!! The details you described all sound purposeful; it is fun to see things that start out as background become key. I always also love the details that don’t necessarily connect to clear narrative strands — but that just hint at other detail or add flesh to the characters or their worlds — like Simms Taback’s illustrations in JOSEPH HAD A LITTLE OVERCOAT, or those fairies that show up all over the place in Patricia Polacco’s BABUSHKA BABAYAGA…

  10. This sounds like a cute, funny book! I can’t wait to read it.

  11. This looks like such a great book! Looking forward to reading it–thanks, Pat! I love cats too (but I must confess, I love dogs even more 😉 )

  12. You had me at the title. Well, actually, at the photos. Looks wonderful.

  13. I can’t wait to read this one! Many thanks for the eloquent recommendation.

  14. I happened to find this adorable book last week at the library. I couldn’t agree more with your review of it. Simply… wonderful!

  15. Looking forward to reading this one!

  16. Sounds wonderful. I just put in a purchase request at my library 🙂

  17. Great post! I’m allergic to cats, but I totally want this book. 🙂

  18. Avatar
    Rita D. Russell

    I’m more of a dog person, but these cats are likely to win me over. To the library I go. 🙂

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