As Mike pointed out in his post last week, “how to” picture books offer lots of opportunities for humor. So I thought I’d follow up with another recent example: How to Give Your Cat a Bath in Five Easy Steps, written by Nicola Winstanley and illustrated by John Martz (Tundra, 2019).
There are many things to love about this book, but I’m going to talk about three things that inspired me as a writer. Here goes:
1. It Sets Up Expectations—Then Dashes Them
Bathing a cat is a breeze, right? It says so right in the title—just five easy steps! Establishing that expectation at the outset makes the ensuing chaos that much funnier. Here’s how it begins:
What could be simpler than filling the tub? Turns out, it’s not quite so easy. First there’s TOO much water. Then there’s not enough. Then the girl is instructed to fill it up “to your cat’s knees.” Your cat’s knees?? No wonder she’s confused.
2. It Includes a Find-the-Hidden-Animal Game
Cats are famously uncooperative. And this one—Mr. Flea—is no exception. By the time our protagonist finally has exactly the right amount of water in the tub, Mr. Flea has disappeared. While the girl frantically searches for her cat, the reader can find him in all sorts of funny places—among the stuffed animals on her bed, in a laundry pile, under a couch cushion . . .
3. It Lets the Reader in on the Joke
Thanks to the clues in John Martz’s very funny illustrations, the reader can predict the calamitous outcome of the steps before the narrator realizes what’s happening. For example, by the time the girl gets Mr. Flea back to the tub, the water needs to be warmed up. Just as she turns on the tap, Mr. Flea escapes. The girl immediately gives chase—which leads to rather disastrous consequences (note what’s happening at the top of the stairs) . . .
Through it all, the instructions keep changing and expanding to adapt to the increasing pandemonium. The “five easy steps” become “ten really convoluted, circular and exhausting” steps. Then, in a classic “Ha!” ending, it turns out only one step was needed. (Hint: it didn’t involve the girl’s help at all.)
I know a few of us here at PBB have written variations on the “how to” book, but I’ve yet to give it a try. How about you?
As always, thanks for reading!
Terrific review! I’m inspired to try writing a “How To” picture book in five easy steps (or ten more difficult steps, as the case may be).
They’re really fun, Patricia. Good luck with it!
How funny! Does anyone know Nicola Winstanley? I’d love to know if she used art notes for her manuscript, wrote a author’s note prelude, or exactly how John Martz choreographed the perfectly wonderful, funny illustrations!
Thanks for asking the questions, Cathy, and prompting a response below! 🙂
Great idea, Linda! Nicola’s book sounds hilarious. What a fun read!
It is hilarious, Mary. I think you’ll enjoy it!
I found this book at my library. I love it! So cute and funny!
This book looks both fun and funny -great combination! I agree, How-to books are a great opportunity for hilariousness. Thanks for the inspiration and congrats, Nicola!
Just the cats name alone is hysterical. My preschoolers love how to books! I’ll add this to the list. Thanks for the review!
This inspiring “how to” book is definitely on my “to read” list! Thanks for sharing!
How darling is this book!
What a fun book! Love the cat’s pink nose 🙂
I just checked this out of the library so I am happy to see your thoughts on this very fun book.
Thanks for your nice little analysis and to all the commenters for your kind words! It really is a thrill for me to see people talking about and enjoying my little book.
Cathy: I did indicate images in this manuscript, which is not something I normally do. In fact, the manuscript was a table with one column for the narrator, one column for the speech bubbles, and one column with a “suggested image”–the images are pretty close to my original suggestions, actually. But, of course, only John Martz could give them that John Martz Spin! (That’s a thing; I promise!)
I wouldn’t normally recommend doing this, but I guess I conceived of this book as a sort of comic, so gave it a comic script. (I write and draw literary comics for adults, but not kids. Weird, huh?)
I’m happy to answer any more questions you may have!
Hello, Nicola! Wonderful to hear from you. As you can tell, I love this book! Thanks so much for stopping by and for answering Cathy’s question. It’s one that frequently plagues us as writers–how many art notes to include when the text is spare and much of the humor comes from the illustrations. Great to meet you–perhaps we can have you back for a chat some time!
I would love to come back for a chat! Any time!
Linda, this is so great! I had to give my kitten a bath when he got into motor oil…and it was quite like this.
I adore How To books. This one looks like so much fun. Thanks for the review.
Oh, I love a good how-to book!