Cat Talk - Kids' Book of Poetry and Portraits

Cat Talk - Poetry Book Cover Art
HarperCollins

Summary

The cover of Cat Talk, with Barry Moser's large and appealing watercolor of a cat and two kittens, caught my attention at my local bookstore. However, it was the combination of the illustrations and the free-verse poems by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest that really captivated me. Each of the 13 poems is presented on a double-page spread with an illustration that perfectly complements the poem.

Children 4 to 8 will enjoy the book but so will animal lovers of all ages.

The Cats and Their Stories

Each poem features a cat's account of his or her life, appearance and/or favorite activities. All different types of cats and kittens are featured, with quite different personalities. You'll meet shy and sweet cats, divas and mischief makers in Cat Talk.

The "voice" of each cat is distinctive. For example, the illustration shows that Princess Sheba Darling is a beautiful long-haired pure white cat. Her poem reveals that she obviously thinks very highly of herself. In fact, she ends the poem with the following words: "As hard as I try, I could never be more beautiful / Than I am / Now."

Minnie, a black cat, is hardly noticeable in the dark of night. She says, "My fur is the color of night. / I am a shadow." In Tough Tom, the tom cat, who is pictured coming through the kitchen window, describes how he became a pet when he was cold, hungry and scratched up.

"You opened the window / And I walked in." Tuck describes the joy of sneaking into bed while everyone is sleeping and finding "a nice ankle to lick." Alice loves bath time and Henry, who doesn't like weddings, loves the girl who got married and sleeping on "that long white dress." Other cats include Romeo, the self-described "lover cat," Sylvie, who is, she says, "the boss cat", and my favorite, Lily, the farm cat.

When I first looked at Cat Talk, I opened it to a watercolor of a cat lying on a barn floor with what looks like a white mouse lying on her head. I was so surprised that at first I wondered if I was mistaken. Then, I read the poem. In it, Lily talks about her life in the barn and reveals that she has a best friend. However, Lily warns readers not to mention her friend because, she says, "I wouldn't want anyone to know this. / But / / I think he's a mouse."

Authors Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest

Patricia MacLachlan is the author of numerous novels and picture books for children, but is perhaps best known for her novel Sarah Plain and Tall, for which she received the prestigious John Newbery Medal and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 1986. Among her many other works of juvenile fiction are Skylark, Caleb's Story and Word After Word After Word.

Patricia MacLachlan and her daughter, Emily MacLachlan Charest, have collaborated on several picture books in addition to Cat Talk. They include: Painting the Wind, I Didn't Do It and Once I Ate a Pie, both of which feature illustrated dog poems, and Bittle,, a picture book that features a dog and a cat. As to how the two began collaborating, in a Publishers Weekly interview, Patricia MacLachlan said that her daughter, who rescues dogs, shared some of their stories with her, and since they also had dogs of their own, they decided to write a book sharing stories about dogs, which led to several books prior to Cat Talk.

{Sources: HarperCollins: Patricia MacLachlan, HarperCollins: Emily MacLachlan Charest, Publishers Weekly: Q & A with Patricia McLachlan}

Illustrator Barry Moser

Barry Moser is a man of may talents: illustrator, printer, printmaker, author, designer, educator and more. Among his many activities, Moser was a founding trustee of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. In addition to Cat Talk, he also illustrated Patricia MacLachlan's What You Know First. In all, he's illustrated and designed more than 300 books. He is known for his wood engravings for the King James Bible.

Barry Moser created the illustrations for Cat Talk in watercolor on paper hand made in England. One of the things that makes his artwork so appealing is his ability to paint cats with what I call "speaking eyes," eyes that express emotion.

{Sources: HarperCollins: Barry Moser and Barry Moser: Biography

My Recommendation

I recommend Cat Talk for ages 4 to 8 as the publisher does, but I also strongly recommend it for older children, teens and adults who love animals, particularly cats, as well as those who enjoy clever illustrated poetry. The cats' personalities are as vivid as the artwork and together they are truly an irresistible combination. (Katherine Tegen Books, An Imprint of HarperCollins, 2013. ISBN: 9780060279783)

More Recommended Poetry Books for Children

If your child enjoys poetry books about animals, one of my favorites is Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, with stunning artwork by printmaker Rick Allen. For poetry about nature and the seasons, I recommend by Anna Grossnickle Hines and by Nicola Davies, with wonderful mixed media artwork by Mark Hearld. The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry is a nice general collection of poems. If your child is interested in writing poetry, I have a number of books to recommend. See Children's Books About Writing Poetry: How to Write Poems: Books for Ages 8-14.