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Top 100 Picture Books #20: Pete the Cat – I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean

#20 Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (2010)
68 points

Once the song is downloaded and played, it will never leave your head! Catchy in a good way. Also, it teaches an important lesson to “not sweat the small stuff.” Great for kids and adults alike. – Gina Detate

Do not be fooled by the simplicity of this little picture book. As with Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, there is more here than meets the eye; there is genius in the pages.

Here is my Tip-slash-Promise: If you will teach your little ones two things before you start reading, you will have an instant-favorite on your hands.
1] Teach them to say, with enthusiasm, of course, “”Goodness, no!””
2] Teach them the song Pete sings. You can see a video of the author himself reading this book with kids at Super-simple to learn and sing. Kids lovelovelove it.

One of my favorite things about Pete the Cat is the moral of the story, which speaks to adults more than it does to kids. Winner.

Warning: You will find yourself singing, at odd times of the day, “I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes….” – Kristi Hazelrigg

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create a serious upset! A show of hands from all of you who saw this one coming. A few? Well done then. Though aware of Pete’s popularity I had mentally relegated him to that genre of popular picture books that get a lot of attention then fade slowly into the mist. I had not counted on Pete’s ability to attract not only the masses but the gatekeepers as well.

The plot according to SLJ reads, “Pete the Cat strolls down the street singing, ‘I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes.’ Then he steps in (actually climbs up) a huge hill of strawberries that turn his pristine sneakers red. ‘Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! He kept walking along and singing his song. I love my red shoes….’ He proceeds to step in a mound of blueberries and then a mud puddle, each incident changing his sneakers to a new hue (the colors never blend). Unsmiling but placid, Pete takes it all in stride. After stepping into a ‘bucket’—more like a tub—of water, he notices that his sneakers are not only white again, but also wet.”

The story behind the book is one of those once in a blue moon success stories.  Artist James Dean started out as an electrical engineer, actually.  After quitting his job to paint full time he adopted a small black cat, named it Pete, and started painting it with blue fur.  The real Pete took off for parts unknown but James kept painting him.  That’s when Eric saw the paintings around town (the town in question being Atlanta) and started writing songs about him.  Eventually the two men collaborated and voila.  Instant picture book.  The original Pete picture book was published by the author and illustrator in 2008 by their own Blue Whisker Press.  Two years later Harper Collins snapped him up and wasted no time in introducing him to the wider world.

Of course the flipside of this book being the massive success that it is is that now publishers are far more open to finding and publishing self-published picture books.  The successful ones that already have a following, anyway.  And because Pete is such a 21st century hep cat, I suspect that his rise has as much to do with his YouTube video as the book itself.  Can another picture book say the same?  I think not.

  • Want some Pete art of your own?  Find it here.
  • Read inside the book here.
  • Other Pete activities can be found here.

School Library Journal was not particularly impressed, saying, “The moral of the story—keep going no matter what happens to you in life—may sound like good advice, but it doesn’t instill any sense of power in children; it just tells them to accept their fate. The downloadable song might help spark interest, but there’s not much here to get excited about.”

So . . . I admit it.  I’d never seen the videos of the performing of this book.  And I gotta say I can see how this is a storytime book that doesn’t even need a guitar.  Check out the author, illustrator and a producer of the CD rocking out with the ankle biter set.

Two girls show of their own Pete abilities.

And the two creator blokes go on Good Day, Atlanta as well.

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.


  1. Wow…I am SHOCKED this made it to such a high spot on the list! We love Pete the Cat at our house, but I had no idea he was so universally popular. Go, Pete! I didn’t even vote for him, but I’m happy anyway.

  2. I really like this book, but I still don’t see it as a #20. I noticed it was #1 or 2 on the NYT picture book list the other day, though, so I feel it’s riding a wave of popularity at the moment. I’d put it in the 60+ range, personally. (Right now I’m actually pretty fond of Pete’s four buttons!)

  3. I’m a fan, but this is a very high placement! It’s definitely a fun read aloud, and kids love it.