Millions of Cats, Billions of Cats

 

Cats! Lewis Carroll had the grinning and vanishing Cheshire Cat; Beatrix Potter had Tom Kitten, and Ginger and Pickles. Mother Goose’s cat played the fiddle; the Kilkenny Cats obliterated each other. Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington’s cat made their owners’ fortunes. T.S. Eliot’s cats made it to Broadway. Ursula LeGuin’s cats had wings. Holly Golightly, in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, wouldn’t give her cat a name.

And there’s much much more…

CAT STORIES

  Mo Willem’s Cat the Cat, Who Is That? (Balzer + Bray, 2010) is a charmingly illustrated series of interlocking hellos, as Cat the Cat meets Mouse the Mouse (“Hello there”), Duck the Duck (“A pleasure, as always”), Fish the Fish (“Hey, dude”), and eventually a stranger, who turns out to be a new friend. For ages 2-5.
  How do you say hello? How about “Victory to you!”? Check out these global greetings.
Omniglot teaches the useful word “hello” in over 150 different languages, with audio clips.
  Jerry Pinkney’s Three Little Kittens (Dial Books, 2010) is a retelling of the traditional nursery rhyme about the trio of mitten-losing cats, with wonderful detailed illustrations. For ages 2-5.
  Mittens Craft has instructions for making (symmetrical) paper mittens, a project suitable for ages 3 and up. You’ll need construction paper, paint, and pieces of yarn.
  In Kevin Henkes’s, Kitten’s First Full Moon (Greenwillow Books, 2004), Kitten is convinced that the moon is a bowl of milk in the sky and is determined to get it. She fails time and again (“Poor Kitten!”) and finally tumbles into a pond chasing the moon’s reflection. Wet, tired, and hungry, Kitten returns home – to find a comforting bowl of milk waiting for her on the porch. For ages 2-5.
  James Dean’s navy-blue Pete of Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes (HarperCollins, 2010) strolls down the street, singing a (downloadable) song (“I love my white shoes/I love my white shoes”). Then he squashes through a mountain of strawberries (shoes turn red), blueberries (shoes turn blue), mud (brown), and finally a helpful puddle (white again, but wet). There are several more song-supplemented books starring the tuneful Pete. For ages 2-6.
  In Lois Ehlert’s Top Cat (Sandpiper, 2001), Top Cat is thoroughly upset when a box arrives with a new striped kitten inside. And he certainly doesn’t want to share his stuff, especially not his bright-red toy mouse – but by the end of the book he’s discovered that it’s fun to have a friend. For ages 3-6. See Top Cat Mask Craft for instructions for making a great mask based on Ehlert’s book.
  By Rob Scotton, author/illustrator of the wonderful Russell the Sheep, Splat the Cat (HarperCollins, 2008) features a fuzzily adorable black kitten who sets off for his first day at Cat School with (disastrously) his pet mouse Seymour concealed in his lunchbox. Many sequels. For ages 3-6.
Check out Russell and other literary sheep at BAA! Sheep, Yarn, Mobius Strips, and DNA.
  In Dr. Seuss’s rhyming The Cat in the Hat (Random House Books for Young Readers, 1957), it’s a wet dull day for Dick and Sally until an enormous cat in a red-and-white-striped hat shows up and creates mayhem. For ages 3 and up.
  Making Learning Fun has a wealth of activities to accompany The Cat in the Hat, including art, math, and reading projects. Included are printable templates, game cards, manipulatives, and cupcake toppers.
  Dahlov Ipcar’s The Cat at Night (Islandport Press, 2009) is a simple story of a farm cat taking a night-time stroll through the surrounding countryside. The stylized artwork is wonderful, contrasting what people see at night (black silhouettes against a deep-blue sky) with what cats see (the same scene in a riot of pink, aqua, yellow, and green). For ages 3-6.
  So what do cats REALLY see? Actually they’re colorblind. Check out Views Through the Eyes of 7 Animals.
  In Lyn Rossiter McFarlan’s Widget (Square Fish, 2006), a small shaggy stray dog wanders into a household of hostile cats and does the only thing he can think of that will allow him to stay: he pretends to be a cat. He meows, purrs, pounces, and hisses, until Mrs. Diggs, his kindly owner, falls down, and Widget saves the day by barking for help. For ages 3-6.
  Pair Widget with Jean Marzallo’s Pretend You’re a Cat (Puffin, 1997), a collection of 13 little rhymes that encourage kids to take on the roles of different animals. (“Can you hiss?/Can you scat?/Can you purr/Like a cat?”) For ages 3-6.
  Graham Oakley’s wonderful British picture-book Church Mouse series – starting with The Church Mouse (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2010) – also features Sampson, the long-suffering orange church cat. (As befits a church cat, Sampson has given up eating mice.) There are many titles, all well worth tracking down. (Especially popular here: The Church Mice and the Moon, in which mice Humphrey and Arthur are kidnapped by the incompetent scientists of the Wortlethorp Space Program.) Recommended for ages 4 and up, but all ages will all laugh themselves silly.
  For many books and resources on MICE, see the post Nice Mice and Awesome Rats.
  In Antonia Barber’s magical Catkin (Candlewick, 1996), illustrated with exquisite watercolor paintings, young Carrie has been stolen from her parents by the Little People, and her tiny cat, Catkin, is determined to get her back. To do so, he must answer three riddles, the answer to one of which will trap him under the hill forever – but the Wise Woman proposes a compromise, in which Carrie and Catkin will spend winters with the Little People and then return home each spring. A lovely story for ages 4 and up.
  Melanie Watt’s Chester (Kids Can Press, 2009) is a gem. In fact, Chester, a large spotted cat – shown on the cover, clutching a red magic marker – is co-author of the book, busily correcting Melanie’s text to suit himself. Tandem writing at its finest for ages 4-8.
  Michael Hall’s Cat Tale (Greenwillow, 2012) is a zany rhyming wordplay adventure starring three blocky bright-colored cats (Lillian, Tilly, and William J.) “They pack some books and kitty chews. They choose a spot. They spot some ewes.” Or try this: “They flee a steer. They steer a plane. They plane a board. They board a train.” Homonyms and homographs galore for ages 4 and up.

BAD CATS

  Ralph, the very bad, bright-red cat of Jack Gantos’s Rotten Ralph (Sandpiper, 1980), is perpetually in trouble, but his loyal owner, Sarah, loves him anyway. There are several sequels in all of which Ralph behaves badly, among them Worse Than Rotten, Ralph and Happy Birthday, Rotten Ralph. The bright stylized illustrations by Nicole Rubel are terrific. For ages 4-8.
  In Tess Weaver’s Cat Jumped In! (Clarion Books, 2007), the cat – a black-and-white stray – leaps in a window and wreaks messy havoc. There’s a lot of repetition of OOPS and OUT! and a happy ending. For ages 3-7.
  In Nancy Tillman’s Tumford the Terrible (Feiwel & Friends, 2011), pudgy black-and-white Tumford, who lives in a tiny cottage in the village of Sweet Apple Green, is always in trouble: he smashes teacups, tramples the garden, tracks dirt in the house, spills paint, and stubbornly refuses to apologize. He hides instead. For ages 4-8.
  In Nick Bruel’s hysterical and wittily alphabetical Bad Kitty (Roaring Brook Press, 2005), Kitty throws fits when she discovers that all that’s left to eat in the house are healthy foods: Asparagus, Beets, Cauliflower, Dill (etc.). In retaliation, she “Ate my homework, Bit Grandma, Clawed the curtains, Damaged the dishes….” – and only when a more acceptable array of foods arrives (Assorted Anchovies, Buffalo Burritos, Chicken Cheesecake…) does Kitty finally Apologize. There are many Bad Kitty sequels, all hilarious, in both picture book versions recommended for ages 5 and up, and chapter books for ages 7 and up.
  Jenni Desmond’s Red Cat, Blue Cat (Blue Apple Books, 2012) is a tale of envy and competition: Red Cat wants to be smart like Blue Cat; Blue Cat wants to be “fast and bouncy” like Red. To accomplish this, they try to change colors: Blue Cat eats red food (a crab, cherries, and rose petals); Red chows down on blue (blueberries, bluebells, a blue fish, and a blue pudding). Finally, as the wildly escalating conflict seems about to resolve itself with the two cats realizing it’s best to accept themselves just as they are, a new yellow cat comes along, and the cycle begins again. For ages 4-7.
  In Judy Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones, Skippyjon – an imaginative and hyperactive Siamese kitten with simply enormous ears – wakes up in a bird’s nest, which does not please his mother at all. “Get yourself down here right now, Mr. Kitten Britches,” says his mother, who sends him off to his room to think about what it means to be a Siamese cat and not a bird. Irrepressible Skippyjon instead bounces on the bed and pretends to be a sword-fighting, cape-wearing Chihuahua. Many sequels. For ages 4-8.
  In Robert O’Brien’s Newbery-winning Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Aladdin, 1986), the widowed mouse Mrs. Frisby’s little son Timothy is desperately ill, so she seeks help from the brilliant colony of ex-lab rats (they read, write, and build machines) who live beneath the rosebush on the Fitzgibbon farm. A villain of the piece is the fearsome Fitzgibbon cat, Dragon – who, it turns out, was the killer of Mrs. Frisby’s husband, Jonathan. A wonderful read for ages 9-12.
  Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH (1982), the movie version of the book, is beautifully done, though Mrs. Frisby’s name has been changed to Brisby (due to a perceived trademark infringement with the Frisbee toy). Dragon, however, is still Dragon. Available on DVD or as an Amazon Instant Video.
  In Brian Jacques’s Mossflower (Firebird, 2002), second book in the Redwall series and a prequel to Redwall, the gallant mouse Martin the Warrior and friends struggle to defeat the evil wildcat Tsarmina and followers. A wonderful caste of characters, a stirring story, and a really nasty cat for ages 10 and up.

WARRIOR CATS, WINGED CATS, VAMPIRE-HUNTING CATS…

  Esther Averill’s Jenny and the Cat Club (New York Review Children’s Collection, 2003) is a collection of stories first published in the 1940s about orphaned black cat Jenny Linsky who lives in New York City with an old sailor, the kindly Captain Tinker (who knitted Jenny her signature red scarf). In the title tale, Captain Tinker has urged Jenny to find some friends, and she longs to belong to the neighborhood Cat Club – a sort of Algonquin Round Table for cats – but she feels too timid and untalented. Ultimately, however, Jenny finds her talent – and joins the Club, bringing two fellow strays along with her. There are many Jenny stories and they’re all great. For ages 5 and up.
  In Barbara Sleigh’s Carbonel: The King of Cats (New York Review Children’s Collection, 2004), originally published in 1955, Rosemary – with an eye toward cleaning houses and earning some money to help her mother – buys a broom and a cat from a peculiar old lady in the marketplace. She gets far more than she bargained for: the old lady is a witch; the broom can fly; and the cat, Carbonel, a royal feline with a high opinion of himself, needs Rosemary’s help to be liberated from a magic spell before he can regain his rightful place as King of the Cats. There are two sequels: The Kingdom of Carbonel and Carbonel and Calidor. For ages 5-12.
  In Ursula LeGuin’s Catwings (Scholastic, 2003), Mrs. Jane Tabby’s four kittens are born with wings. Life is too dangerous for these odd-looking kittens in the city, so as soon as they’re old enough to fend for themselves, Mrs. Tabby sends them off to find a safe home, far from the urban slums. Roger, James, Thelma, and little Harriet cope with danger and hunger, and eventually find a loving home with children on a farm. Sequels include Catwings Return, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, and Jane on Her Own. For ages 7-10.
  In Dick King-Smith’s Martin’s Mice (Yearling, 1998), Martin – a kitten – is sneered at by the other kittens for his soft-hearted affection for mice. He even manages to capture a pregnant female mouse, Drusilla, whom he keeps as a pet in a discarded bathtub in the barn. He’s devastated when Drusilla and family – who don’t enjoy being pets – escape, and only comes to understand their point of view when he’s taken away from the farm to be a pet in a city apartment. When he himself finally escapes and makes his way home again, he’s able to forge a true friendship with Drusilla and to win the respect of his father, the big tomcat Pug. For ages 7-10.
  By Betsy Byars, Betsy Duffey, and Laurie Myers, Cat Diaries: Secret Writings of the MEOW Society (Henry Holt and Company, 2010) is a collection of eleven short stories all purporting to be from the diaries of cats. (MEOW stands for “Memories Expressed in Our Writing.”) Among the tales: “Rama, the Gypsy Cat,” “Library Cat,” “Whiskers and the Parachute,” “Miu: The Great Cat of Egypt,” and “Pirate Cat, Treasure Hunter.” There’s also a counterpart: Dog Diaries: The Secret Writings of the WOOF Society (2007). For ages 7-10.
  For another take on a cat’s diary and a contrasting dog’s diary, see the Good Eats Humor Page. (Dog: “Dog food! My favorite thing!” Cat: “The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.”)
  Chester the cat is a key player in James Howe’s Bunnicula (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006) – told from the point of view of Harold, the dog – in which the Monroe family brings home a baby rabbit, found on a seat in the movie theater during a showing of Dracula. Chester – literate, sensitive, and prone to panic – becomes convinced that the bunny, now named Bunnicula, is a vampire, especially when sucked-dry white vegetables start showing up in the kitchen. Several sequels. For ages 8 and up.
  In Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright’s The Cheshire Cheese Cat (Peachtree Publishing, 2011), Skilley, an alley cat, has found a home at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, an inn frequented by Charles Dickens, who is struggling to find a first line for his new novel. (“The times were cruel. Appalling. Ghastly. I think I’ll just jump in the Thames. Or become a chimney sweep. Anything but a writer.”) Skilley – whose dreadful secret is that he prefers cheese to mice – cuts a deal with the resident mice (he leaves them in peace, they bring him cheese), and makes a particular friend of Pip, a mouse with a startlingly large vocabulary, who can read and write (with his tail). Together they manage to defeat Pinch, a vicious ginger cat, and, with some help from Queen Victoria, restore a wounded raven, Maldwyn, to his home in the Tower of London. And Pip provides the struggling Mr. Dickens with his essential first line. Clever and delightful for ages 8 and up.
  See Kids Wings for assorted research links related to The Cheshire Cheese Cat, among them information on the real Olde Cheshire Cheese inn (a historic landmark in London), Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Queen Victoria, and the ravens of the Tower.
  In Elizabeth Coatsworth’s Newbery-Medal-winning The Cat Who Went to Heaven (Aladdin, 2008), originally published in 1930, a poor Japanese artist is appalled when his housekeeper spends their few coins on a little cat instead of much-needed food.  The cat, Good Fortune, however, lives up to its name: the artist soon receives a commission from the monks of a nearby temple to paint a picture of the Buddha’s death, with all the earth’s animals gathered around him to bid him farewell. According to Buddhist legend, the cat, who refused to pay homage to the Buddha, is forever barred from heaven – but the artist, who loves his little cat, includes a cat in the painting. The monks are furious and announce their intention to have the painting burned – but in the morning they find that a miracle has occurred. The painting has altered: now the little cat sits beside the Buddha, who is reaching out his hand to it in blessing. For ages 8 and up.
  In Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson’s The Familiars (HarperCollins, 2011), the first of a series, Aldwyn, an alley cat, escapes from a bounty hunter by ducking into a peculiar pet shop – one that specializes in familiars – and is purchased by Jack, an eleven-year-old wizard-in-training. In company with two other familiars – Skylar, a know-it-all bluejay, and Gilbert, a tree frog – Aldwyn must come to the rescue when Jack and two other young apprentices are kidnapped by an evil witch. For ages 8-11.
  In SF Said’s Varjak Paw (Yearling, 2005), Varjak is a pedigreed Mesopotamian Blue, descendant of the fabled Jalal the Paw, a great hunter and fighter, who could make himself invisible and talk to dogs. Varjak and his family have lived in comfort for generations in the home of the Contessa, never venturing into the frightening Outside. Then a Gentleman moves in, with two vicious black cats, and Varjak flees to the city, looking for help. There he links up with alley cats Holly and Tam, and battles the frightening gang leaders Ginger and Sally Bones. When Tam suddenly Vanishes, he, Holly, and the dog Cludge return to the Contessa’s house to save his family, and in doing so solve the mystery of the Vanished cats as well. For ages 9-12.
  Erin Hunter’s Warriors series is a fantasy featuring four clans of wild forest cats, the ThunderClan, ShadowClan, RiverClan, and WindClan. In the first of the series, Into the Wild (HarperCollins, 2004), young Rusty, a house cat or “kittypet,” joins the ThunderClan, is renamed Firepaw, and begins training as an apprentice warror. A good bet for fans of Redwall. For ages 10 and up.
  Check out Discover Warriors for games, quizzes, and puzzles all related to the Warriors books.
  Kathi Appelt’s Newbery Honor book The Underneath (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010) is a complex, painful, magical, and wonderful tale (told in many brief chapters) of an unlikely friendship between an abandoned pregnant calico cat and Ranger, an old hound dog chained beneath the porch of a shack in the East Texas bayou and abused by his owner, Gar Face. The adventurous kitten Puck, who leaves the safety of the Underneath, triggers a tragedy and a cascade of events involving the monstrous King Alligator (Gar Face’s white whale) and shape-shifting Grandmother, an ancient water moccasin trapped in a buried pottery jar. For ages 10 and up.
  Gabriel King’s The Wild Road (Del Rey/Ballantine, 1998) is high fantasy for cat lovers. The hero, a kitten named Tag, is sent on a quest by the mysterious one-eyed black cat, Majicou: He must find the king and queen of cats and bring them to Tintagel in Cornwall before the spring equinox. Majicou, it turns out, is the keeper of  the wild roads, ancient energy paths used by animals to travel through time and space. The villain is the evil Alchemist, who is trying to gain control of the roads, and the cat queen (Pertelot Fitzwilliam) is central to his plan. Tag is supported in his task by a raft of helpers, among them a cockney cat, Mousebreath, a magpie, One for Sorrow, and a fox, Loves a Dustbin. The story continues in The Golden Cat.  For ages 12 and up.

 CATS AND PEOPLE

  Eileen Spinelli’s Do You Have a Cat? (Eerdmans, 2010) is a rhyming picture-book survey of famous historical figures and their cats, from Cleopatra to Queen Victoria, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Calvin Coolidge, and Albert Schweitzer. For ages 4-7.
  Visit A Few Famous Cat Lovers for a long alphabetical annotated list. Among the featured cat lovers: Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Lindbergh, and Sir Isaac Newton (who invented the cat flap).
  Gourmet chef Julia Child had a cat. Susanna Reich’s Minette’s Feast (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012) tells Julia’s story through the eyes of her little French cat, Minette, who – though she loves the delicious smells and wonderful recipes emanating from Julia’s kitchen – much prefers raw mouse. The text is sprinkled with Child quotes and the end notes include a photograph of Julia with Minette. For ages 4-8.
  Marcia Brown’s Dick Whittington and His Cat (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1988) is the picture-book story of the homeless orphan who – with the help of his extraordinary cat – became Lord Mayor of London. (Three times.) For ages 5-9.
  For more information on Dick Whittington, including the myth, the real story, and historical images, visit Purr ‘n’ Fur Fabled Felines.
  In Alan Armstrong’s Whittington (Yearling, 2006), a Newbery Honor book, Whittington (a.k.a. Bent Ear) is a battered tomcat who, evicted by his owners, comes to live in the barn at Bernie’s farm. There he tells the story of his illustrious ancestor, Dick Whittington’s famous cat, to an assembly that includes other adopted animals and Bernie’s orphaned grandchildren, Abby and Ben. For ages 9-12.
  In Kirby Larson’s Two Bobbies (Walker Children’s Books, 2008), the two are Bobbi, a dog, and Bob, a cat, both abandoned in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The two survived together for four months before animal rescuers took them to a shelter, where Bob the cat was found to be blind. The two friends were eventually adopted (together) into a happy home. A wonderful tale of friendship and a nice plug for animal shelters. Pair this one with a field trip. For ages 5-8.
  Marilyn Singer’s Cats to the Rescue (Henry Holt and Company, 2006) is a collection of stories about heroic, helpful, and inspirational cats, with catchy notes on cat history and behavior. Featured cats include Dick Whittington’s cat; Scarlett, the cat who saved her kittens from a Brooklyn fire; Paisley, elected as mayor of Guffey, Colorado; and Simon, who received a war medal from the British Navy. For ages 8-12.
  In Jean Craighead George’s The Cats of Roxville Station (Puffin, 2010), Rachet, an abused orange kitten, is tossed off a bridge and left to drown by a lady in a fur coat. Rachet survives, and gradually is accepted by the feral cats who live around the Roxville train station as she learns to cope with other wild animals and survive in the outdoors. She’s also befriended by Mike, a boy who lives with his foster mother (who hates cats). Mike and Rachet form a bond – they’re both, Mike says, survivors. The story integrates and explains real behaviors of cats, which adds to the interest. For ages 9-12.
Also see The Cats of Roxville Station Discussion Guide.
  In Paula Fox’s complex and compelling One-Eyed Cat (Aladdin, 2000), set in the 1930s, eleven-year-old Ned Wallis shoots a forbidden gun at a moving shadow. Later, when a wounded one-eyed feral cat shows up, Ned is convinced that this is his doing. Food for discussion for ages 10 and up.
This parent-student literacy unit for One-Eyed Cat has discussion questions, exercises, projects and printable organizers.

CATS AT SEA

  In Sue Stainton’s The Lighthouse Cat (Katherine Tegen Books, 2004), a lonely lighthouse keeper, whose task is to keep the lights burning in the lighthouse’s 24-candle lantern, adopts a stray cat named Mackerel. When a gale blows the candles out and a fishing boat is lost at sea, Mackerel summons eleven cats from the village and together their glowing eyes light the boat safely home. For ages 4-7.
  Why do cats’ eyes shine in the dark? For a straightforward answer (with references), see here
  In Antonia Barber’s beautifully illustrated The Mousehole Cat (Walker Books, 1993), the great Storm-Cat, howling outside the little village of Mousehole, has trapped the fishing fleet in the harbor and food is running low. Finally old Tom heads out to fish in the teeth of the storm, so that the children of the village will not go hungry on Christmas Day – and his cat Mowzer goes along to protect Tom (her pet) from the fearsome Storm-Cat. Mowzer’s purring soothes the storm; and Tom comes safely home with enough fish for a holiday feast. For ages 5-8.
  Marty Crisp’s Titanicat (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011) is the story of young Jim Mulholland, cabin boy on the Titanic, charged with caring for the ship’s cat and her new family of kittens. When the cat leaves the ship, taking her kittens with her, she leaves one behind. Jim, worried, takes the abandoned kitten ashore to find its family, and in doing so misses the ship’s sailing. He’s devastated – until, a few days later, he learns how lucky he was. Based on a true story. For ages 5-8.
  In Michael Morpurgo’s Kaspar the Titanic Cat (HarperCollins, 2012), the elegant Kaspar is the former cat of opera singer Countess Kandinsky, adopted by Johnny Trott, a bellboy at the Savoy Hotel, after the Countess is killed by a bus. Kaspar and Johnny become friends with eight-year-old Lizziebeth, daughter of rich American parents staying at the hotel, and they follow along when Lizziebeth and family board the Titanic and sail with her as stowaways. Then the unsinkable ship hits an iceberg. For ages 9-12.
  In the spirit of Ben and Me and Mr. Revere and I, Robert Lawson’s Captain Kidd’s Cat (Little, Brown, 1984) is the  story of the famous pirate William Kidd as told by his ship’s cat, McDermot, who, in true pirate fashion, wears a ruby earring in one ear.  This is out of print; check used-book suppliers and public libraries. For ages 8-12.
  Caroline Alexander’s Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition (Harper Perennial, 1999) is the story of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition as recounted in the diary of the (very articulate) ship’s cat. For teenagers and adults.
  For biographies of famous (real) ship’s cats, see The Cats Who Sailed on Ships.

FOLKTALE CATS

  The story of “The Cat Who Walked By Himself” is one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So Stories, along with such perennial favorites as “How the Camel Got His Hump,” “How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin,” “The Elephant’s Child,” and “The Butterfly That Stamped.” Originally written in 1902, the book is now available in many editions. The text is also available online.
  Write a Just-So story of your own? Pourquoi Stories: Creating Tales to Tell Why has a book list and helpful reading and writing worksheets. The How and Why of Writing a Pourquoi also has instructions and suggestions.
  “The Cat Who Walked By Himself” in the form of a children’s play is included in Lisa Bany-Winters’s On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids (Chicago Review Press, 2012).
  Wendy Henrichs’s I Am Tama, Lucky Cat (Peachtree Publishers, 2011) is a picture-book version of the Japanese legend of Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat, in which a little cat is taken in and cared for by a poor monk. Eventually the cat saves the life of a samurai warrior (by beckoning him out of the path of a falling tree), for which good deed both cat and monk are generously rewarded. Images of a beckoning cat are therefore said to bring good fortune. For ages 4-8.
Other picture-book versions of the Japanese Lucky Cat tale are Susan Lendroth’s Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat (Shen’s Books, 2010) and Koko Nishizuka’s The Beckoning Cat (Holiday House, 2009).
  Ed Young’s Cat and Rat (Square Fish, 1998) is a beautifully illustrated tale of the Chinese zodiac. The Emperor holds a race among all the animals, announcing that the names of the first twelve to cross the finish line will be given to a year in the Chinese calendar. Rat cheats, which is why Rat and Cat are enemies to this day. For ages 5-8.
  “The Boy Who Drew Cats” is a traditional Japanese folktale in which a young artist, training to be a priest, insists on drawing pictures of cats on the walls and screens of the temple. Sent away by his frustrated teacher, the boy shelters in an abandoned temple overnight – but not before he covers the walls with pictures of cats. He then goes to sleep in a cabinet, but wakes to the sound of a terrible battle. In the morning a demonic Goblin Rat lies dead on the floor and the mouths of the painted cats are wet with blood. A picture-book version of the tale, Margaret Hodges’s The Boy Who Drew Cats (Holiday House, 2002) is shamefully out of print, but can be found in public libraries and through used-book suppliers. For ages 5-8.
  The Annotated Puss in Boots has an annotated version of Charles Perrault’s classic fairy tale in which a miller’s youngest son inherits a very clever cat and ends up rich and married to a princess. The website includes a history of the story, multicultural versions of the tale, and a Puss in Boots book and movie list.
  Among these are Philip Pullman’s Puss In Boots: The Adventures of That Most Enterprising Feline (Knopf Books for Young Readers), Paul Galdone’s Puss in Boots (Sandpiper, 1983), and Charles Perrault’s Puss in Boots (Square Fish, 2011), a Caldecott Honor Book, gorgeously illustrated by Fred Marcellino.

HISTORY AND CATS

  Karen Hesse’s picture book The Cats in Krasinski Square (Scholastic, 2004) is a gently told story of the Jewish resistance in Warsaw during World War II. A young girl who has befriended the city’s abandoned pet cats comes up with a scheme to use the cats to distract the Nazi dogs, thus allowing her older sister and friends to smuggle supplies through the wall into the ghetto. A ray of light in a dark time. For ages 7-10.
  Yona Zeldis McDonough’s The Cats in the Doll Shop (Puffin, 2012) – a sequel to The Doll Shop Downstairs (2011) – takes place during the early days of World War I in New York City, where eleven-year-old Anna, her sisters, and parents live above the family business, Breittlemann’s Doll Repair Shop. Challenges in this book involve Tania, a withdrawn and unhappy young cousin from Russia, and a family of mistreated stray cats. For ages 8-12.
  Michael Morpurgo’s The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (Scholastic, 2006) is told through a letter to a twelve-year-old grandson, written by his grandmother Lily, and telling of her experiences as a young girl on a farm in Britain during World War II. In 1943, Lily’s life has been changed by the war: evacuees are billeted in the village; Lily’s father is with the army in Africa; her teacher, Mrs. Blumfeld, is a Dutch Jew who fled the Nazi occupation of Holland; and American soldiers (Lily’s grandfather calls them “ruddy Yanks”) are everywhere. Then the announcement comes that the entire village is to be evacuated so that the army can practice landing maneuvers for D-Day. The problem: Lily’s beloved cat, Tips, insists on returning to the danger zone. Tips is finally recovered, with the help of a young black G.I., Adolphus (Adie), who has become Lily’s close friend. The heartwarming conclusion returns to the present: Lily has traveled to the United States and found Adie, and the two have just married. For ages 9-13.
  Sam Stall’s 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization (Quirk Books, 2007) groups famous felines under “Science and Nature, “History and Government,” “Art and Literature,” “Popular Culture,” and “Profiles in Courage.” Among the cats: Unsinkable Sam who went down with the Bismarck, only to be rescued by the British Navy; CC, the world’s first cloned cat; Felix, the first cat in space; Mrs. Chippy, who accompanied Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica; and Charles Dickens’s cat, who helpfully snuffed the author’s candles. Also see Stall’s 100 Dogs Who Changed Civilization. For ages 12 and up.
  Howard Loxton’s 99 Lives: Cats in History, Legend, and Literature (Chronicle Books, 1998) is a lushly illustrated 144-page compendium of fascinating facts about cats, from church cats and heraldic cats to ship’s cats, artist’s cats, and psychic cats. For all ages.

HALLOWEEN CATS

  Ruth Brown’s A Dark Dark Tale (Puffin, 1992) opens on a dark, dark moor on which sits a dark, dark forest in which there is a dark, dark house. Readers are shepherded by a black cat through this shivery story until finally – in the dark, dark box in a dark, dark cupboard – they find (!) a mouse.  A fun and not-too-scary tale for preschoolers. (But it only works once.)
  In Anne Mortimer’s Pumpkin Cat (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011), Cat, with the help of knowledgeable friend Mouse, learns how pumpkins grow. Together they plant seeds, tend plants, harvest their pumpkin, and carve a beautiful jack-o’-lantern.  Included are pumpkin-growing instructions. For ages 3-5.
  In Cynthia Rylant’s Moonlight: The Halloween Cat (HarperCollins, 2009), a lovely little black cat prowls softly through the night, watching glowing jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating children, a friendly scarecrow, porch-visiting raccoons, and a big full moon. A gentle Halloween night for ages 3-6.
  Eve Bunting’s Scary, Scary Halloween (Sandpiper, 1998), with illustrations by Jan Brett, is narrated in rhyme by a green-eyed black cat, as she and her kittens watch a skeleton, a ghost, witches, goblins, a devil, and a mummy parade down the road – all really children in Halloween costumes. (“I peer outside, there’s something there/That makes me shiver, spikes my hair./It must be Halloween.”) For ages 3-6.
  In Arthur Howard’s Hoodwinked (Sandpiper, 2005), Mitzi, a small witch in a purple hat, likes creepy things – spiders, monster-faced bedroom slippers, skull-shaped breakfast cereal – but she can’t seem to find an appropriately creepy pet. That is, until a dismayingly cute and cuddly kitten shows up at her door. For ages 4-7.
  In Lynne Berry’s Gorey-esque The Curious Demise of a Contrary Cat (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006), Witch is throwing a party, and Cat is being no help whatsoever. (“Cat,” said Witch, “fetch me a hat!” But Cat was busy chasing Rat.) Finally, after just one GRRR too many from uncooperative Cat, frustrated Witch turns Cat into a toad. For ages 4-7.
  In Martha Freeman’s Who Stole Halloween? (Holiday House, 2008 ), eleven-year-old sleuths Alex and Yasmeen solve an October mystery involving serial cat-nappings and a 100-year-old murder. (First cat to disappear is the neighbor’s aptly named Halloween.) For ages 9-12.
  Read Edgar Allan Poe’s classic horror story “The Black Cat,” originally published in 1843, online. The text can also be found at Teacher Vision, along with a reader’s theater version of the story, a vocabulary list, and discussion questions. For ages 12 and up.

TRAVELING CATS

  In Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey (Yearling, 1997), a trio of pets – Luath, a Labrador retriever, Bodger, an elderly bull terrier, and Tao, a Siamese cat – are stranded in a cabin three hundred miles from home, and to rejoin their owners, must make a dangerous trek across the Canadian wilderness. For ages 9 and up.
  A true-to-the-book film version of The Incredible Journey (Walt Disney, 1963) is set in Canada; in a 1993 version, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, the animals – renamed Shadow, Chance, and Sassy – travel from a California ranch to find their owners in San Francisco.
  In the movie The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986), made in Japan and adapted for an American audience, Milo, a cat, and Otis, a dog, raised together, are best friends. When Milo is swept down the river in a box, Otis goes after her, and the two have separate adventures (variously with bears, owls, pigs, birds, snakes, and tough terrain) before being happily reunited. Rated G. The movie is available on DVD or as an Amazon Instant Video.
  In Mary Calhoun’s Cross-Country Cat (Mulberry Books, 1986), Henry, a very resourceful Siamese cat, is left behind at a vacation ski lodge – so he makes himself a pair of skis and sets off, with his purple-yarn mouse, on a cross-country trip home. There are several sequels, among them Hot-Air Henry, High-Wire Henry, and Henry the Sailor Cat. For ages 4-8.
  Where do cats go when you’re looking for them, but can’t find them? They time travel. In Lloyd Alexander’s Time Cat (Square Fish, 2012), Jason’s orange-eyed cat Gareth can both talk and time travel – that is, in lieu of nine lives, Gareth can visit nine different lives, anywhere, any time, and what’s more, he can take Jason with him. Off the pair go on a chronological series of adventures, in ancient Egypt, Roman Britain, Saint Patrick’s Ireland, imperial Japan, Renaissance Italy, Germany (during a witch hunt), and colonial America. For ages 8-12.

Poetry with Cats

  Eleanor Farjeon’s Cats Sleep Anywhere (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2010), illustrated by painter Anne Mortimer, is a lovely simple poem (“Cats sleep/Anywhere/Any table/Any chair”). For ages 3-6.
  Andy Griffiths’s The Cat on the Mat is Flat (Square Fish, 2009) is a collection of nine zany illustrated rhymes, the first of which involves a cat, a mat, a rat, and a baseball bat. A hoot for ages 4-9.
  In Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat (Puffin, 1996), illustrated by Jan Brett, the famous couple’s pea-green boat floats through the clear waters of the Caribbean beneath which – right along with the Owl and the Pussycat – a pair of yellow fish are also falling in love. For ages 3 and up.
  As illustrated by Stephane Jorisch, The Owl and the Pussycat (Kids Can Press, 2007) in the Visions in Poetry series features an upper-class business-man-like Owl and a free-spirited Pussycat who run away from it all and live happily ever after. All ages.
  Betsy Franco’s A Curious Collection of Cats (Tricycle Press, 2009) contains 34 delightful and brightly illustrated concrete poems in a range of styles from haiku to limerick. (Also, just to be fair, see Franco’s A Dazzling Display of Dogs.) For ages 4-8.
  Douglas Florian’s Bow Wow Meow Meow: It’s Rhyming Cats and Dogs (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2003) is a collection of 21 illustrated humorous poems, variously celebrating cats and dogs, as well as the wolf, the leopard, the lion, the ocelot, the black panther and the cheetah. For ages 5-10.
  Dave Crawley’s Cat Poems (Wordsong, 2005) is an illustrated collection of – yes – 24 cat poems, among them “Playground Cat,” “Finicky Felicia,” “Mixed-Up Max,” and the poignant “Tandy Is Twenty.” Try this snippet: “My cat can’t read, can’t read a word/(To think he could would be absurd)/Yet every time I read a book,/he scrambles up to take a look.” Crawley is also the author of Dog Poems (2007). Both for ages 6-9.
  Lee Wardlaw’s Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (Henry Holt and Company, 2011) is a clever and heartwarming tale of a blue-eyed shelter cat and his adoption by a boy, related in haiku (well, senryu). The action begins in the Shelter (“Nice place they got here./Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home!/Or so I’ve been told.”) and ends with the little cat happily settled in his new home, where he finally tells the boy his real name. It’s not Won Ton; it’s Haiku. For ages 4-8.
  In Sharon Creech’s Hate That Cat! (HarperCollins, 2010), a sequel to the wonderful Love That Dog, Jack and his perceptive teacher Miss Stretchberry return for more poetry and self-exploration. Jack deals with a hateful black neighborhood cat, his critical and opinionated Uncle Bill, his feelings for his deaf mother, and his love for his new Christmas kitten – which disappears, only to be safely returned by the now-no-longer-hateful black cat. Featured poems are by Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Eliot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, William Carlos Williams, Valerie Worth, and Walter Dean and Chris Myers. Jack’s poem in imitation of Poe’s “The Bells,” “The Yips” (“Hear the dogs with their yips/Squeaky yips”) is priceless. For ages 9-12.
  T.S. Eliot’s poetic celebration of cats, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1982), is available in several editions, but my favorite is this one, with wonderful pen-and-ink illustrations by Edward Gorey. The poems include “The Naming of Cats,””Growltiger’s Last Stand,” “The Song of the Jellicles,” “Old Deuteronomy,” and “Macavity: The Mystery Cat.” Originally written in the 1930s, this book was the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular musical Cats. (Available on DVD.)
  In Don Marquis’s classic archy and mehitabel (Anchor Books, 1987), originally published in 1916, Archy – poet and cockroach – communicates with the author by leaping on the keys of his typewriter. (No capital letters; Archy can’t use the shift key.) The book is a wonderful collection of free-verse stories about Archy’s world and friends, among them Mehitabel, a personality-laden alley cat, whose motto is “toujours gai.” For teenagers and adults.
  Edited by Emily Fragos, The Great Cat (Everyman’s Library, 2005) is a 256-page anthology of cat and cat-related poems by such poets as William Blake, Edward Lear, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, William Shakespeare, and Mother Goose. For teenagers and adults.
  Poems About Cats is an illustrated collection, among them “The Cat and the Moon” by William Butler Yeats, “See the Kitten on the Wall” by William Wordsworth, “The Naming of Cats” by T.S. Eliot, “Cat Math” by Ruth Berman, and more.
  In Carl Sandburg’s poem Fog, “The fog comes/on little cat feet.”
  See Christopher Smart’s 18th-century cat poem, For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey.
  William Carlos Williams’s Poem features a cat stepping into a flowerpot. (The photo here is of Williams with his cats, Adam and Eve.)
  Eugene Field’s The Duel describes the epic battle between the gingham dog and the calico cat.
  See Wordsmith for background and a limerick about the battling Kilkenny cats. (“There once were two cats of Kilkenny/Who thought there was one cat too many…”)

ART! CRAFTS! CATS!

  Joan Sweeney’s Bijou, Bonbon, and Beau: The Kittens Who Danced for Degas (Chronicle Books, 2002) is the story of three mischievous kittens adopted by a ballet theater in Paris where artist Edgar Degas comes to sketch the dancers. Illustrations are Degas-style impressionist pastels. For ages 2-6.
  Nonny Hogrogian’s Cool Cat (Roaring Brook Press, 2009) is a wonderful wordless picture book in which a black cat with a paint box arrives in a desolate vacant lot and proceeds to transform it. In each double-page spread, a new helper arrives to wield a paintbrush, and by the end of the book, the lot has become a flower-filled meadow with a pond. For ages 3-6.
image-2 James Warhola’s Uncle Andy’s Cats (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009) tells the story of artist Andy Warhol’s 25 cats – beginning with the first little blue cat named Hester. Illustrations include images of the artist’s paintings and of Warhol at work. For ages 4-8.
  Geraldine Elschner’s The Cat and the Bird (Prestel Publishing, 2012) – inspired by and illustrated in the style of artist Paul Klee – is the tale of a little cat who, despite a lovely home filled with toys, envies the freedom of the bird. Then one day the bird manages to set the cat free, and at the end the cat is dancing joyfully on the roof in the moonlight. For ages 5-8.
Deep Space Sparkle Art Lessons for Kids has a wonderful Paul Klee art lesson featuring The Cat and the Bird. Kids make gorgeous multicolored castles.
  Also see Mike Venezia’s Paul Klee (Children’s Press, 1991), a delightful 32-page biography in the “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists” series. For ages 5-9.
  Shelley Jackson’s Mimi’s Dada Cat-ifesto (Clarion Books, 2010), a marvelously illustrated mélange of collage, drawings, newspaper clippings, and eccentric typefaces, is the story of a creative alley cat who finds a home with the absurdist Mr. Dada, an imaginative off-the-wall artist who is clearly Mimi’s kindred spirit. An author’s note explains – or at least attempts to explain – the Dada movement. (“Dada is anything silly and surprising.”) For ages 6-9.
Check out this gallery of Dadaist artworks.
  Marguerite Henry’s Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin (Beautiful Feet Books, 2008) is a lightly fictionalized 156-page biography of the Pennsylvania Quaker who grew up to become the “father of American painting” and the only American ever to become president of the British Royal Academy. As a boy, Benjamin was so passionate about painting that he made his own paints from clay and devised brushes with fur from his pet cat’s tail. For ages 9-12.
  Cats in Art is a virtual exhibit of cats in art, arranged in chronological order from antiquity to the present.
  Lee J. Ames’s Draw 50 Cats (Watson-Guptill, 2012) is a 64-page step-by-step guide to drawing house cats, wild cats, and cartoon cats. For ages 9 and up.
  Ruth Soffer’s The Cat Lovers’ Coloring Book has 30 ready-to-color illustrations of the world’s top cat breeds, among them Burmese, Siamese, Persian, and Maine Coon cats. $3.95 from Dover Publications.
  Check out How to Draw a (Cartoon) Cat at Cartooning Basics.
  DLTK’s Cat Activities include coloring pages, instructions for a cat paper bag puppet and a cat shapes project (make a cat from circles and triangles), cat mini-books and writing paper, and more. For ages 2 and up.
  First School’s Cat Theme has printable alphabet pages (C for cat; K for kitten) and worksheets, links to fairy tales, fables, and nursery rhymes featuring cats, online cat jigsaw puzzles, cat papercrafts, and more.
  ChildFun has a list of creative cat activities: for example, kids make wallpaper calico cats, handprint cats, cat collages, and potato-print pawprints.
Enchanted Learning has patterns and instructions for cat puppets, cat greeting cards, and a black cat hat.
  Visit Paper Modelz for colored printable patterns for a terrific family of 3-D paper cats with printable patterns.
  From Artists Helping Children, Cat Crafts for Kids has dozens of cat-based crafts, among them cat masks, cat Christmas ornaments, a striped-cat craft stick refrigerator magnet, cat bookmarks, origami cats, and more.

MATH WITH (Millions of) CATS

  In Wanda Gag’s classic Million of Cats (Puffin, 2006), a lonely old man and woman decide they would like to have a cat, so the old man sets out to find the prettiest cat of all. He finds not just one, but “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats.” Ultimately the cats, all insisting that they’re the prettiest, have a massive fight, leaving behind only a scrawny little black kitten, whom the old couple pronounce the prettiest of all. For ages 4-8.
  Good books to accompany Millions of Cats include David Schwartz’s How Much Is a Million? (HarperCollins, 2004), in which a Mathematical Magician introduces kids to the concept of a million with many creative analogies (a goldfish bowl big enough for a million goldfish could hold a blue whale; a stack of a million kids could reach all the way to the moon) and On Beyond a Million (Dragonfly Books, 2001), in which Professor X and a spouting popcorn machine provide a kid-friendly explanation of scientific notation and increasingly enormous numbers (up to a googol).
  See just what a million looks like (and learn a lot of fascinating facts along the way) with Andrew Clements’s picture book A Million Dots (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006).
  “In the city/windows light./How many cats/will dance tonight?” Caroline Stutson’s rhyming Cat’s Night Out (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2010) is an exercise in dance and counting by twos, as multiplying pairs of gorgeously outfitted cats samba, boogie, tango, tap, twist, and form a conga line on a clothesline. For ages 4-8.
  Hunt for the Black Cats is an early-elementary math challenge in which numbered black cats (see the printable at the website) are hidden throughout a room; kids have five minutes to hunt; then add up the numbers of the cats they’ve found.
  In Theoni Pappas’s The Adventures of Penrose, the Mathematical Cat (Wide World Publishing/Tetra, 1997), Penrose investigates pancake world, meets a fractal dragon and a Fibonacci rabbit, discovers infinity and Mobius strips, learns about tessellation, and more. For ages 7-12.
  Anne Akers Johnson’s Cat’s Cradle: A Book of String Figures (Klutz, 2009) has clear instructions for five traditional string figures: Cat’s Cradle, Cup and Saucer, Witch’s Broom, Jacob’s Ladder, and Eiffel Tower. Nice heavy-duty colored string is included with the book. For ages 6 and up.
  Cat’s cradle and math? (Absolutely.) James R. Murphy’s Murphy’s String Figures: Teaching Math With String Figures (CreateSpace, 2008) provides instructions for making many different figures and discusses how Murphy used string figures as a means of teaching math to math-hating high-school students. For more information, see Murphy’s website.

THE SCIENCE OF CATS: Purrs, Laps, Pounces, and Meows

  Juliet Clutton-Brock’s Cat (Dorling Kindersley, 2004) in the DK Eyewitness series is a lavishly illustrated survey of cat physiology and behavior, breeds, relatives, myths and legends, history, famous cats, and how to care for pet cats.  Each double-page spread is devoted to a separate topic. For ages 8 and up.
  How to say “hello” in cat? Rub heads. Jean Craighead George’s How to Talk to Your Cat (HarperCollins, 2003) gives readers the scoop on cat communication, including tail and ear signals, purring, and 19 different kinds of meows. For ages 7 and up.
  Who’s smarter: cats or dogs? See what science says here
  What color is a cat? From the Cat Fanciers’ Association, Understanding the Basic Genetics of Cat Colors is an illustrated kid-targeted site that provides a simple explanation of the genetics of fur color and pattern in cats. It turns out that there are really only two colors of cats: red and black.
  A Brief History of House Cats from Smithsonian magazine is the story of the domestication of the cat. Our house pets, scientists believe, originated from a Middle Eastern wildcat, and first linked up with humans about 12,000 years ago.
The June 2009 issue of Scientific American magazine has an excellent article on “The Evolution of House Cats.” It’s available to magazine subscribers online, or look for it at your public library.
  How cats lap: it’s more complicated than it looks. Read all about it here.
  Cat physics! Find out why cats always land on their feet with this Smarter Every Day video (starring Gigi, the Stunt Cat).
Why do cats purr? Nobody quite knows. See here for science’s best suggestions.
  John Gribbin’s In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat (Bantam Books, 1984) covers the history and physics of quantum theory (including Erwin Schrodinger’s famous cat-in-a-box thought experiment) for a popular audience. For teenagers and adults.
  See this short straightforward summary (with videos) of the famous Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment.
For a clever animation on Schrodinger’s cat, see New Scientist TV’s One-Minute Physics.
  From the Unemployed Philosophers Guild: a Schrodinger’s Cat Finger Puppet. Irresistible for $5.95.

 

 

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