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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Katie Loves the Kittens
Katie Loves the Kittens
written and illustrated by John Himmelman
Henry Holt and Co.,(September 2008)
Katie loved those kittens so much. As soon as she saw them, she howled "AROOOOOO! AROOOOOO!" She always howled like that when she was very happy.
But Katie's howling frightened the kittens. They ran in all directions. Katie chased them around the house. "AROOOOO! AROOOOO!" she howled.
"No, no, no, Katie," said Sara Ann. "You are scaring the kittens! You stay away from them until they get used to you."
Katie felt sad. She did not want to scare the kittens.
--Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman, p. 2-5.
Have you ever felt misunderstood? Or had someone interpret your actions much differently than you intended or how you felt? That's what happens to Katie in Katie Loves the Kittens. Sara Ann brings home three kittens, and Katie is so excited and happy that she can't stop howling. But her howling and enthusiasm scares the kittens, who run from her every time she tries to approach them. Sara Ann ends up thinking that Katie doesn't like the kittens. This is hard for Katie, and she withdraws, eventually falling asleep. When she wakes, Katie finds the kittens sleeping with her and on her. She is SO happy that she immediately wants to howl and jump and run around in circles, but she manages to restrain herself. The kittens stay with her, and Sara Ann praises her, and Katie is content.
Himmelman (Chickens to the Rescue, Tudley Didn't Know) takes us into Katie's head and emotions beautifully. We understand and feel her excitement at the kittens, her sadness when they don't understand, her feeling left-out, and the motivations for her actions (such as being so happy about the kittens and just wanting to be near them, to smell them, that she leaps into the bedroom and pounces on the bed, inadvertently scaring them). The strong emotional understanding makes the reader get deeply involved in the story, care about Katie, and want things to work out for Katie. So it's very satisfying when, after being so misunderstood, everything works out and Katie gets understanding, praise, and the companionship of the kittens she adores. Readers will also likely identify with Katie--with being misunderstood, since most of us have been misunderstood, at one point or another. Katie is a likable, friendly character; she loves the kittens, wants to be with them, and is excited and enthusiastic, and so clearly just wants to be friends with the kittens.
Himmelman makes us care, not only through Katie's emotions and her likable character, but also through her initial failures to be understood. The scenes leading up to her pouncing into the bedroom bring a nice sense of anticipation and a build up of tension and worry that it won't work out well. This is also built up by Katie's previous, similar attempts which failed. It makes the payoff, when Katie succeeds and gains redemption, all the sweeter.
Readers may find understanding through Katie Loves the Kittens with how it feels to have a new baby in the house and having to be quiet and careful; getting a new pet that you have to be gentle with; or, more generally, feeling misunderstood or left out.
Himmelman's text and illustrations work beautifully together. His illustrations build on the text, adding things that the story text in a delightful way.
Himmelman's watercolor illustrations are so alive and so full of a sense of movement that you can almost see the characters move. The illustrations show motion and expression so well--in body language, in the feeling of the lines, and in the dotted lines showing Katie's furiously wagging tail or shaking body, with an echo of her tail or body showing where she just was. We also get a sense of movement through seeing Katie and the kittens raised above the floor in a leap, shadows beneath them. Colors are bright, with some pleasing texture, and Himmelman makes good use of light and shadow to bring a sense of depth and perspective. The illustrations are borderless, appearing one or two per page with soft edges.
Himmelman uses a visual marker to remind the reader of emotion. Every time Katie is sad, she goes to her red pillow bed. THe reader starts to visually associated the red bed with Katie being sad, which works well, until finally the kittens join Katie on her bed, which brings a sense of happiness and resolution, all the more intense because it moves Katie and a place of being sad into happiness and contentment.
Katie Loves the Kittens lets readers know that they can find understanding in others; that even if at first they fail they can try again and succeed; and that sometimes you need to be gentle and quiet with others. It tells these things in a delightful story form with no preachiness. This is a heartwarming, endearing book that will make you want to read it again and again. Highly recommended!
Katie Loves the Kittens was nominated for the 2008 Cybils awards.
-Added February 20, 2008
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