March 6, 2017
by Jacob Grant
Feiwel and Friends
“Cat and Girl has always been good friends.”
“One day, Girl brought home a colorful new guest.
His name was yarn.”
So opens Cat Knit. The text may seem simple but the story is many-layered. On the surface it is a story about a very expressive cat who has scads of fun playing with the ball of yarn that Girl brings home. At least fun is had until she knits yarn into a clingy, itchy sweater.
That’s the surface interpretation. Then there is the underlying story about change and perhaps even growth. From the outset Cat is unhappy about the changes in Yarn. Yarn is all wrong and Cat pulls off the new sweater only then realizing just how cold the snow is. He grudgingly admits that “warming up” to something new takes time.
All of this comes through the story without Grant preaching about the benefits of change and growth and giving new things a chance. Instead, it all comes through organically.
Grant initially drew the illustrations with charcoal and crayon before coloring them digitally. Like the text, the illustrations are deceptively simple. They look cartoony but both Cat’s facial features and gestures are wonderfully expressive and communicate a world of emotion.
Because the text is so brief, this would make an excellent read aloud. That said, young boys who aren’t familiar with knitting men may not be willing to give the story a chance. Yes, I see that as a problem but not necessarily one that you can address in the middle of story time.
Fortunately the book would also be top-notch for one-on-one reading or early reading. Finding good books for new readers can be tough and this story is well-developed without vocabulary that feels like it has been kept too simple.
Share this with the young reader in your life and be ready for a varied and far-ranging discussion that may encompass change and growth as well as unwanted and unwelcome gifts.
December 4, 2015
Amanda and Her Alligator
written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins
Amanda and Alligator are best friends. Unfortunately, Alligator gets left behind when Amanda goes out. When this happens, he paces and fiddles with his tale. Alligator is not very good at waiting.
Still he’s a good friend. When Amanda surprises him with a BOO!, he wants to surprise her back. But BOO! does work nearly so well when the other person is expecting it. Alligator has to think of something else. After all, he’s a good friend like that.
When Grandpa takes Amanda to the zoo, Alligator gets left behind yet again. He paces. He fiddles with his tail. He tries to eat a book. Finally, Amanda comes back but Alligator is pretty sure he doesn’t like the surprise she brings home with her. Panda is huge and fluffy and doesn’t look like he came from the sale bucket.
Alligator is still trying to reconcile himself with this interloper when Amanda announces that she’s leaving again. Grandpa, it seems, wants to take her to dinner.
Now Panda and Alligator are waiting together. The biggest surprise? He may be fluffy and cute, but he doesn’t like waiting either.
Again, I’m not going to give the ending away.
As always Willems’ illustrations convey a ton of emotion while being very simple. Like Knuffle Bunny, also by Mo Willems, Alligator is a stuffed animal. Willems’ doesn’t exactly say this but you get that feeling when you see him sitting in the corner of the room. But Willem respects Alligator too much to point out his stuffed-animalness. Alligator, after all, is very real to Amanda and to Willems. My favorite illustration is probably when Alligator chews on Amanda’s head. Seriously, it is silly and fun and you have to see it.
The book is divided into 6 1/2 stories. They call them stories. I would call them chapters. But that’s not important.
The design of this book is masterful with all kinds of little things that many people wouldn’t notice. At the beginning of the book, the end papers feature Amanda and Alligator. At the end, they feature Amanda, Alligator and Panda. This is a masterful stroke, because above all this is a book about friendship. It isn’t only about how to be a good friend but how to add friends.
Share it with the young reader in your life today.