Two cat picture books about the joys — and the problems — of the cats we love

Cats. Can’t live with them; can’t live without them. At least some of us feel that way. I adore my black cat, Blacky, yet my other black cat Natty is a big pain in the neck. He jumps on us, delights in knocking over things on our nightstands, and eats any flowers I bring into the house (so I don’t get flowers anymore). But we love them even when they drive us nuts. Here are two picture books that celebrate those cats that can be “negative” or have “problems.” You’ll love them both as much as my grandson and I do.

“Negative Cat” by Sophie Blackall is adorable from the cover to the last page with a personal note from the author. She, too, had a “negative” cat who ate flowers, hogged the newspaper, threw up, and bit the hand that petted her. This fabulous picture book begins with, “On Day 427 of asking for a cat…” and a boy holding up a picture of a smiling striped cat with a hopeful expression on his face. He continues to ask for a cat, over and over and over and over. Finally his parents give in. With conditions, including that he has to read for 20 minutes a day. That’s a tough one because he’s not a great reader, and he can only make sense of the words if he reads slowly and out loud, which makes other kids laugh at him. But he agrees. And when they go to the shelter, he picks out Max, an adorable striped cat. He shows Max the cat’s new bed, toys, and scratching post. “He is not excited.” Max is not like his friends’ cats. In fact, his sister points out, “…he’s kind of negative, your cat.” The whole family tries to be nice to Max, but in typical cat fashion, Max responds with hairballs on the rug, his tail in the butter, poop in the hall, eating flowers and deleting email. Max is not making the family happy. Note: This is the part I love! “When the lady from the shelter comes..” she talks to his parents about commitment and responsibility. Yes! But Blackall makes the ending one which will make cat lovers and cat rescuers (like me) tear up. Negative cat loves it when the boy reads, and the boy finds that reading to a cat helps him read better! So he drafts his friends, they all read to the cats in the shelter, and end up adopting some of them. Perfect ending to a perfect book about cats who aren’t perfect. They’re just…cats. (Nancy Paulsen Books)

And a book that is the PERFECT companion to “Negative Cat” is “Cat Problems.” In this picture book, Jory John introduces us to a first person narrator cat who is every bit as grumpy and “negative” as the cat in Blackall’s book. Lane Smith’s illustrations are simultaneously soft and very geometric. It’s as if they have given voice to the negative cat in the first book, and the narrative is hysterical. My grandson can’t stop laughing when we read it. Snarky, pushy, very catty. And the second cat in this book is a small ginger cat, very reminiscent of the small ginger cat my grandson’s huge rescue Siamese bullied. Just like in this book. This book was the first time I’ve gotten to teach my grandson about sarcasm. When there are a few old kernels of dry food in the cat’s bowl, the cat comments, “Wonderful.” Even young children know that the cat is not being serious. When the cat longs to explore the great outdoors, the squirrel’s response is priceless. The pages with a chorus of “mraowww” on it are a great opportunity for pre-readers to be able to join in and make “meow” sounds for each word that the reader points to. That’s a great pre-literacy skill, knowing that each word has meaning. This is a book that kids will want to read over and over and over again. (Random House Studio)

Educators should buy both books and teach them together. It’s a great opportunity to show children how to compare and contrast, and these two books have so much to compare and contrast. This cat, like negative cat, enjoys sniffing shoes. However, this cat, unlike negative cat, has another cat friend. Compare their personalities. How are they alike? How are they different? Compare the writing style of the books. Are both written from the cat’s point of view? How do we know? Of course, there is a writing activity besides the obvious compare and contrast one. Students can write about a pet they have (or hope to have) and what might happen if the pet is not perfect. Or they can write about the imperfect qualities of their pet, because let’s face it—no pet is perfect.

Bring some joy and humor into the life of your favorite child or teacher with both of these delightful picture books!

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover picture books provided by the publishers for review purposes.