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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
My Cat Copies Me
My Cat Copies Me
by Yoon-duck Kwon
Kane/Miller Book Publishers,(March 2007)
When I get scared, I hide under my blanket, and my cat hides with me. She snuggles in, and purrs. My friend, my cat, copies me.
But from now on . . .
. . . I will copy my cat!
Like my cat, I'll look outside. I'll watch the darkness, and I won't be afraid.
--My Cat Copies Me by Yoon-duck Kwon, p. 15-19.
A shy, lonely, somewhat timid little girl spends most of her time with her cat, playing in a withdrawn kind of way, thinking how her cat copies her--until one day the girl decides to copy her cat. All through this change of perspective, the girl becomes more outgoing, less afraid, and makes new friends.
Kwon's (Excited Alone!) brief text moves from scene to scene as the girl and her cat play together, at first the cat copying the girl, and then the girl copying the cat. There is a wry humor to this, as the things that the girl insists the cat is copying her on, are things that are natural for cats to do, and that she has clearly picked up on from her cat--tunneling under newspaper, hiding in closets, watching bugs. Readers will want to turn the page to see what new activity the girl and cat are engaged in together.
The repetition of "my cat copies me" is pleasing, and does not occur so often that it gets irritating, but instead changes subtly in the repetition. This repetition also nicely sets up the way things are before the girl changes. The rhythm and feeling tone of the text skillfully changes, moving from scenes where the cat copies the girl, to scenes where the girl and her cat are acting together, as one, to the moment of decision and change, to scenes where the girl copies her cat and breaks out of her shell. The moment of change is nicely built up, with a good moment of tension, where in a paragraph the girl is scared and hides under the blanket with her cat, to short, brief, broken-up sentences punctuated by ellipses where the girl decides to copy her cat. This works well, and underscores the importance of the change.
The girl and her cat are very close, and this helps the girl's initial loneliness and inhibitness seem lighter. Then, when the girl decides to make new friends, her cat goes with her; she does not abandon the cat. This gives a feeling of solidarity and strong friendship.
One small thing I found jarring was the mention of a parent--Is Mommy home?--when the parent did not appear once in the illustrations or again in the text. Still, it gave me the feeling that the girl was alone a lot with her cat, and perhaps that was the intention. I also did not want to be told more than once that the girl would not be afraid any more; once felt good, and was woven into the story, but the second time felt like telling. Still, these are small points.
There is great movement and character growth and change in this story; the girl changes from being afraid and being somewhat shy and withdrawn, preferring safety, to becoming more outgoing, less afraid, and able to meet new people and make new friends. This change is bolstering and heartwarming, and may encourage readers to try the same--to see things differently, and to reach out to others.
Kwon's illustrations are stylized, with grey lines outlining the characters, objects, and some of the patterns. Most of the illustrations are cheerful, with pastel colors and some brighter hues and splashes of red on white backgrounds. Because of this, most of the illustrations feel gentle. Patterns appear throughout the illustrations, on the girl's clothing (floral patterns on her pants and pink dress), on doors and laundry, on plants and books, and these patters bring a sense of design and elegance. There is an emphasis on flowers, leaves, and trees through pattern and setting. Many of the illustrations use a lot of white space, and have white backgrounds or backgrounds with washes of color, while others have more detailed backgrounds with almost empty foregrounds aside from the main characters. Some objects do not seem anchored to the space around them, but almost float on the page.
The illustrations are bursting with playfulness (such as the girl's cat watching her hide under a tablecloth, looking like it wants to pounce on her, the little girl peeking out from beneath, both of them smiling), others are silly and fun, with a cat-ness about it that cat lowers will recognize (such as the girl and the cat both poking an arm or paw out from beneath a desk onto a keyboard), and a few have a slightly darker feel (such as when it's dark outside, and there are faces or eyes appearing in various objects). The illustrations vary from one per page to one per spread, though often there are a number of similar layouts clumped together.
The moment of decision and change is highlighted in the illustrations by large depictions of the cat's eyes, one on each page, the girl appearing small inside each eye, her own eyes turning from black and white to black and green, like the cat's eyes. Also, the two illustrations side by side move from darkness around the cat eye, when the girl is still afraid, to a brighter yellow-brown when the girl decides she will copy her cat, highlighting the girl's bravery. The girl continues to have green cat eyes throughout the rest of the book, once she has made her decision to copy her cat and not be afraid any more, as if her cat has somehow infused her with cat curiosity and powers.
A wordless spread at the ending gives just the right amount of wrap-up and extra beat after the text, showing the girl and her cat running and playing with other children, and a final, wordless illustration shows a happy, satisfied cat hiding behind rocks and plant life. Observant readers will enjoy spotting the fish patterns that pop up now and again in the illustrations, from the fish swimming on the computer screen, to the fish on a mug, to the fish on a blanket, as well as the occasional recurring object such as the pencil and the scooter.
This book encourages readers to reach out to others, to see the world differently, to try new things, and to be less afraid. This may speak especially to readers who are shy, lonely, or afraid, or who need to stretch the boundaries of their worlds and minds. My Cat Copies Me may also be particularly important to girls, showing a girl transforming out of fear and being strong in her own self. Recommended.
-Added May 2007
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