-- Publishers Weekly, 1/18/2010 7:00:00 AM
Cat the Cat, Who Is That? by Mo Willems. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray, $12.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-172840-2
In Cat the Cat's friendly world, names are an uncomplicated affair, most of the time. This early reader pictures Cat, an irrepressible kitty in a purple dress, skipping and cartwheeling to greet pals like Mouse the Mouse and Fish the Fish. All is well until Cat meets a chartreuse creature with eyestalks, a blue tongue, four arms, and three legs. She skids to a halt and her tail electrifies. The individual, unrecognizable but clearly amiable, stops stacking blocks to say, “Blarggie! Blarggie!” This time Cat's initial response to the repeated question, “Cat the Cat, who is that?” is “I have no idea,” but Cat finally decides this might be “a new friend!” and responds with a bouncy “Blarggie!” of her own. Willems provides just enough humor and surprise to entertain youngest audiences and subtly suggests some future reading: Duck the Duck cradles a Pigeon doll, and in a second book being released simultaneously—Let's Say Hi to Friends Who Fly!—another character rides a Pigeon playground toy. Cat could become another favorite; her personality sparkles in expansive gestures and gleeful interactions. Up to age 5. (Feb.)
The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman, illus. by Paul Meisel. Holiday House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-1952-4
Such a clever idea! Make the Little Red Hen into a balabusta (that's Yiddish for a singularly sensational homemaker/matriarch/keeper of the spiritual flame), set the story during the Jewish holiday that turns every home into a sacred space, and watch a familiar tale become exponentially funnier and, yes, more meaningful. By the time Kimmelman (Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt!), a terrifically conversational storyteller, and Meisel (Barnyard Slam), a slyly astute cartoonist (Sheep looks truly sheepish), are done, readers of all faiths will know a lot more than some emotionally evocative Yiddish words. They'll also understand why Passover whips Jewish mothers into a frenzy (“The Little Red Hen had cleaned her house, top to bottom. There wasn't a crumb of bread to be found anywhere”), and why, even after all her schlepping and kvetching and unassisted matzo making, LRH still cannot turn away her “no-goodnik” friends when they have the chutzpah to show up at her seder. Oh, and one more thing: those who clean up after the seder while their hostess puts her feet up can find redemption for even the most egregious shortcomings. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)
The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, illus. by Jon Klassen. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray, $15.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-179105-5
In this humorous kickoff to the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, Wood (My Life: The Musical) injects new life into the governess theme by charging genteel 15-year-old Penelope Lumley (educated at the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females) with three wild children—Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia—who were raised in the woods and taken into the “care” of Lord Frederic Ashton and his selfish, superficial bride (the children are living in a barn when Penelope arrives). With a Snicketesque affect, Wood's narrative propels the drama; Penelope is a standout, often invoking the truisms of her school's founder (“The best way to find out how fast a horse can run is to smack it on the rump”) while caring for the Incorrigibles—named such so they won't be presumed Ashton's heirs. Despite the slapstick situations involving the children's disheveled appearance, pack behavior, and lack of language, the real barbarism comes from the Ashtons and a society that eagerly anticipates their failure. Though the novel ends a bit abruptly, the pervasive humor and unanswered questions should have readers begging for more. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (Feb.)
Congratulations to these authors!