Two or Three Cats
‘Cat Tale’ and ‘Red Cat Blue Cat’
From “Cat Tale”
By PAMELA PAUL
One book features three cat friends. The other is about two cat rivals. One offers inspired nonsense. The other deals with a (relatively) realistic situation. But with eye-poppingly bright and friendly illustrations, winning stories and clever execution, these two new picture books stand apart from the rest of the cat pack.
Written and illustrated by Michael Hall
40 pp. Greenwillow Books. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 3 to 6)
RED CAT BLUE CAT
Written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond
40 pp. Blue Apple Books. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)
“Cat Tale” is a twisty, imaginative story, told in homonyms, about three cats — Lillian, Tilly and William J. — who, “from word to word” make their way in the world, whether they plane a board or board a train. Some of the wordplay may fly over the heads of younger children and even, possibly, confuse them. (“They shoo a truly naughty gnu” is not likely to be grasped by most 3-year-olds.) But then the cats themselves become confused:
The words are jumbled!
They’ve lost their way –
Lillian, Tilly and William J.
But it’s all O.K. because the vividly hued and boxy, collage-style digital illustrations, which recall Eric Carle and recent work by Marc Brown, will engross younger readers while older readers catch on to the double meanings. And children of all ages will appreciate the cats’ attempts to bear some hail and hail a whale. A step up in linguistic difficulty from “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” this latest from Hall (“Perfect Square,” “My Heart Is Like a Zoo”) nonetheless captures some of that classic’s tumble-bumble rhythm and “read it again” magic.
Feline foes and rivalries masking secret jealousies are not new subjects. Nonetheless, the warring yet endearing cats in Jenni Desmond’s “Red Cat Blue Cat” are welcome company. Their travails aren’t so different from our human ones. Red Cat, you see, “wished he were as smart as Blue Cat, and . . . Blue Cat wanted to be fast and bouncy like Red Cat.” And so, just like people, “they fought and they hissed and they wished, all day long.”
When Blue Cat decides to be more like Red Cat, he eats a crab, some cherries and rose petals, among other items. “Guess who was spying on him the whole time?” Desmond slyly asks. Red Cat, in turn, is inspired to try “blueberries, bluebells, a blue fish, blue pudding and certain cupcakes.” Thus begins an escalating conflict between the two cats as each tries to imitate, match and outdo the other.
Desmond’s captivating drawings combine intricate pen-and-ink and charcoal lines and childlike splotches of color to depict the best and worst in what will be highly recognizable cat behavior. The story, with its nod to “Little Blue and Little Yellow” and other tales of friendship and differences, hits all the familiar beats. But it does so with a generous dose of humor, adept storytelling and spot-on detail.