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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World
My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World
by Gilles Bachelet
Abrams Books for Young Readers,(May 2006)
My cat is very fat, very sweet, and very, very silly.
When my cat's not eating, he's sleeping.
When he's not sleeping, he's eating.
When he's not eating, he's sleeping.
In rare instances, my cat devotes several minutes to exercise.
--My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World, by Gilles Bachelet, p. 1-3.
What strikes your funny bone? It's different for different people, but My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World, sure struck mine. The unnamed narrator insists throughout the book that his cat is a cat, who does cat things like eat a lot, sleep frequently and anywhere, chase yarn, and so on—but it's clear from the illustrations that his cat is an elephant. And that is where much of the humor comes in—through the interplay between the wry text and the appealing illustrations that show a very different scene. Many readers will love the silly, funny absurdity of this book.
Bachelet's very first sentence ("MY cat is very fat, very sweet, and very, very silly") combined with the first illustration (an elephant trying to fit himself into a cat bed) sets the tone of the book and lets the reader know that this is, indeed, a very silly story.
The text uses dry humor to give us examples of what the narrator's cat does, and this humor works all the better because of the illustrations. Readers will also enjoy the hints that the elephant is, in fact, an elephant, with his fear of mice (very uncat-like), not landing on his feet as cats are supposed to do, and his missing the cat litter box.
Bachelet's text is brief, with one to three short sentences per page, and this brevity helps move the book along quickly, though readers may want to pore over the illustrations for a while. The sentences are pleasing to the ear. Bachelet has a good sense of timing; he knows when to break up a sentence or two between the pages of a spread, to maximize the effect, and when to have a punch line on the second page of a spread.
My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World, is episodic; it's not so much a story but more a series of statements or scenes that are linked together, piling up to "prove" that the narrator's "cat" is a cat, when it's clear that it is not. Young readers, especially, will love pointing out that the narrator is mistaken.
I would have liked a stronger punch line or humorous ending; for me, there was something lacking in the ending. It ended with a fizzle, and I was left wanting another page, another spread to give me a satisfied feeling. Still, the delightful humor works well, and rest of the book is strong.
This book uses a near-perfect interaction of text and illustrations, each helping the other work, creating the strong humor together, and each incomplete on their own.
Bachelet's ink-and-watercolor illustrations are pleasing to the eye, well rendered, and have a good sense of space, color, and comedic effect. The illustrations are funny and sweet (although not too sweet)—for instance, we see the elephant lying on top of a TV with his bum and back feet facing the viewer, his tail hanging right down the middle of the screen; the elephant trying to fit into a cat bed, and just barely doing it; and the elephant using the litter box and missing, and then cleaning up after himself with a broom, dustpan, and air freshener. Some illustrations are particularly endearing, such as the elephant lying on a stuffed armchair with a bunch of pillows around him, his trunk hanging right over edge. The illustrations greatly add to the humor of the book, and seeing an elephant's trunk hanging out of household appliances and furniture where one would never expect it to be is particularly funny.
The illustrations also hold humor in showing the elephant do things that cats do with the agility of a cat but the body of an elephant—such as licking and cleaning himself; walking over his human's work; chasing a ball of yarn and making a huge mess of the house; and using a litter box.
The size and number of illustrations are varied throughout the book, using many large, full-color background illustrations that take up most of the page with a medium-sized strip of the white page as a border; large illustrations placed like cutouts on white space; and multiple smaller images placed like cutouts on white space showing a sequence of events. In one large, fun illustration, we see the elephant move through time, chasing the ball of yarn as a cat would, all in the same scene. Readers will enjoy following his path of descent, and seeing some of the destruction he wreaks.
The illustrations use a warm palette with grey and pink in the elephant, many browns and yellows that appear in the floor, walls, furniture, and objects, and splashes of red or orange in most illustrations. Patterns are used in many illustrations on cushions, book covers, and clothing to add visual interest and make the elephant stand out even more. There is a nice use of household objects, furniture, and details that add to the setting, the humor, and the richness of the book, even down to, in the illustration where the elephant perches on the cat litter, the laundry hanging up in the bathroom near a mop, a pot collecting a drip under the sink, a used toothbrush, a partially used bag of cat litter, and more. Texture is suggested at through the elephant's slightly hairy hide and tail, brick, and grain in wood.
The readers gets hints that the narrator is an artist through the portfolios and sketches that the elephant sleeps under; the drafting board that he sleeps on top of; the painting and letter that he walks over next to a watercolor paint set, paintbrush, art pencil and eraser; and the paintings and sculptures throughout the house. Later it is confirmed that the narrator is indeed an artist when he is shown sketching the elephant.
The elephant grows throughout the book; he starts out small enough that he can sleep on top of a TV or fit inside a dryer, grows a bit larger by the time he perches on top of a cat litter box, and is even larger when the man draws him. He appears largest near the end when he sits facing his human, putting his foot on the man's knee, and it is evident that he's many, many times larger than the man. This makes it all the more funny that the man cannot figure out that his pet is not a cat.
Sophisticated readers may enjoy the added layer of the narrator twisting famous art, using the elephant in place of people in such paintings as Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, Magritte's The Great Family, and paintings by Picasso, Miro, and more. Sophisticated readers may also enjoy the Shakespearean reference in the sign above the paintings: "A cat by any other name." But even if these references go over a reader's head, this book is full of humor and whimsey.
If you're looking for a fun, silly book to lift your spirits, check this one out. You won't regret it. Highly recommended.
-Added February 2007
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