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Review: Where Is Catkin? by Janet Lord

Where Is Catkin?
By Janet Lord
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Peachtree Press
ISBN: 978-1-56145-523-2
Ages 4-8
On shelves now.

Julie Paschkis makes cats look fun to draw. There. Done. Shortest review I ever wrote. Where’s my hot toddy?

Aw, heck. Look at me. Old softie that I am I can’t just stop with that. Because truth be told, where Julie Paschkis is involved words of great length and descriptive qualities must be utilized. In this particular case, we’re dealing with a book of siblings. Janet Lord, sister to Ms. Paschkis, lays down a simple text of a cat searching for little edible animals and insects, and Ms. Paschkis picks it right up with her customary gouache stylings. The result is one cute little package. A kitty book, a book of hidden animals, and a story of eternal feline frustration. More eye-popping than your usual picture book fare, this is one cute cat that stands out from the pack.

Though fond of his owner Amy, Catkin leaps off her lap to go on the hunt. First on the menu, a tasty cricket chirping, “Kerik-kerik. Kerik-kerik.” However the quick moving insect scuttles away. The text asks, “Where is Cricket?” Sharp-eyed readers are then encouraged to sift through the illustrations’ multiple details to find the hidden treasure waiting. Next Catkin tries his hand at a plump green amphibian, but quick as a wink it disappears. “Where is Frog?” This continues for some time with a mouse, a snake, and a bird until at last Catkin climbs up a tall tree and gets stuck. Along comes Amy to rescue her cat, and the last image shows Catkin curled comfortably in her lap purr purr purring away.

The first thing any children’s librarian is going to think of while reading this book is the Caldecott Award winning book Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. Only 25% of this is due to the plot and writing, mind you. It is true that in both books a cat continually pounces on something, only to find its paws empty (and occasionally wet). But the images are what make up the remaining 75% of the feeling. Though this book indulges in rich deep oranges and greens (with a side order of blue and magenta for spice) the pictures of Catkin leaping and coming up disappointed ring true. Of course, Catkin is a much more stylized feline when compared to the kitten of Henkes. Catkin’s paws, for example, are lacking claws, coming out rather as rounded tufts (one orange, one white). Still, there are similarities to the ways their bodies crouch and pounce and leap and dive. Both illustrators have watched their own fair share of cats.

Detail oriented freak that I am, I took an inordinate amount of pleasure in realizing how Paschkis chose to use the borders in this book. Made up of the same swirling menagerie you’ll find on the endpapers, Paschkis hides little details in the designs for the sharp eyed tots reading this book. With each animal that Catkin fails to catch, that same critter suddenly appears in the border, surrounding the page. The result is that kids end up not only trying to spot the multiple animals hiding on each page in the storyline, but also in the borders as well. The best part comes at the end. You’ve one final image of Catkin purring happily in Amy’s lap, the world all curls and swirls about them. The opposite page is completely blank of everything but one image. There, in the orange page’s upper right-hand corner, is a delicate little blue bird. It is remarkable in its simplicity.

I know that Ms. Paschkis has a lot on her plate. This year alone she’s produced not only this but also Margarita Engle’s non-fiction picture book pleasure Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. Ms. Lord for her part tends to pair with her sister when she writes picture books. She doesn’t need to, of course. Her words stand plenty strong on their own. Just the same, it really is a pleasure to see a book as whole and complete as this one. The words and pictures complement one another beautifully without a hitch. Consider Where is Catkin? a keeper then. For cat lovers and cat neutrals alike.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


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