Memorial Day weekend may not be the official start of summer, but it sure brings on summery thoughts—about, say, swimming pools, sandy beaches, and—for some of us—lazy days with lots of books.
Take Nick, for instance, the title character in Curtis Manley’s book The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read, illustrated by Kate Berube (Simon & Schuster, 2016). He loves books so much—and loves his cats so much—that he decides to teach them to read so they can all enjoy books together.
Then there’s Stevenson. He does not like books, or words, or reading lessons. Not one bit. And as Nick and Verne bond over books, play-acting literary scenes together, Stevenson is left out.
That’s a problem.
Then Nick makes a discovery: a stash of pirate drawings under his bed, created by Stevenson, the not-at-all-interested-in-books cat. Turns out he loves stories, too—but pirate stories, not fish stories. And he enters into them a different way—through the art rather than the words.
Well, that changes everything. Nick and Verne write a story to go with Stevenson’s pictures. They get pirate books from the library. And the three of them use the stories as a launchpad for imaginary adventures.
I can’t help thinking how different this story would have been if Nick were trying to teach two young (human) friends to read. By using cats, Curtis Manley makes a story about engaging reluctant readers approachable, entertaining and funny. Kate Berube’s illustrations add to the warmth and humor.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read recognizes there are many different kinds of readers, and that it can take some effort and experimentation to find the right sort of book for each. It seems like the perfect kick-off for a library summer reading program.
By the way, it took a second reading for me to make the connection between the cats’ names and some of the literary references in the book—i.e., Verne (as in Jules) and Stevenson (as in Robert Louis). Cute, no?
Quick Announcement! Registration is open for the Red Hot Carolinas SCBWI Conference in Charlotte this August 25-27th. Two-time Newbery Honor-winning author Gary Schmidt will be speaking, along with many other good folks, including my agent, Jennifer Mattson (who you met in this post), with whom I’ll be doing a joint presentation on navigating the author/agent relationship. Full schedule here.