My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sometimes when a picture book works really well, it’s a delight regardless of what age you are. The best ones work at a level accessible to everyone, bringing different levels of nuance and meaning to an apparently simplistic concept. They are very hard to do, and very hard to do well.
This, my friends, is brilliant. There Are Cats In This Book is a glorious lovely thing that had me giggling as I turned the pages. It is a very straightforward premise; the cats in the book are waiting for somebody to play with them, and by reading it, you are playing with them: “Come play with the cats in this book, Tiny, Moonpie and André. All you have to do is start turning the pages!”
What I love, love, love about this is how it teaches so much about the art and act of reading. The frontispiece has a little coda (“The cats aren’t on this page”) and then, when you hit the apparent book itself, which you’ve actually been reading from the moment you saw the front cover, the cats are hidden sleepily behind a blanket which you have to lift up and discover them beneath.
So, in a few pages, you’re learning the concept of narrative, the concept of reader-driven narrative, and the concept of how to actually read a book. This is massive, massive stuff and stuff that’s superbly handled.
It continues in this lovely vein throughout the book; the reader must open boxes where the cats are hiding, turn the page to let them play in the wool they’ve spotted, and accidentally get involved in a cushion fight. The latter moment is brilliant as it also reinforces the cause and effect nature of narrative; you keep reading, things keep happening. This is all really powerful stuff for the developing literate.
Artistically it’s an utter treat. Schwarz has a bold exuberance to her colours and I love how every now and then the colours of the cats push out of their black outlines. This helps to give the cats an intense vitality to their movements and lets them live off the page.
This is such good stuff. Seriously. It’s outstanding.