"Spot the Cat" (Henry Cole)
Simon & Schuster, 2016
C: So, "Spot the Cat"...
S: OMG. When I saw this book I knew that it was the perfect book for you. It's a mixture of cats, critical thinking and very intricate art.
C: Not to mention that it is a wordless book, which puts it firmly into your repertoire.
S: I have no words (ha ha) for how much I love this book.
C: I always love books that have an interactive element. Even though this is a wordless book it would appeal to a wide age range.
S: It's kind of like a “Where's Wally” but really, really beautiful. Also, for a wordless book there are SO MANY WORDS involved. Can you imagine reading this book with a child?
C: I couldn't put it down until I had found the cat on each page.
S: If you had this book with an actual child, you might never get that child to go to sleep.
C: True. As a classroom teacher I can see this being a rich, interactive experience with a large group, small group or individual child. Each page is like its own micro-story, sparking rich discussion.
S: I was just about to ask you what you thought about this book for a classroom! I think this book is the perfect rainy day book, and also a great book for ESL learners because there is so much that can be said about each page. "Is this the cat?" "No, that one doesn't have a spot. It's this one racing across the street"...
C: I only have one critique...but it is a big one.
S: Hit me.
C: There are multiple wide-scale depictions of city streets, parks, train stations, but little noticeable diversity depicted in the crowd scenes. I would've liked to have seen a wider range of ethnic backgrounds represented.
S: That is a really good point. I was just about to say that I love the city scape, because it is at once very big (wide, vast buildings that go on for ever and ever), and also very small (the cat knows where it is going, and comes home to the comfort of the sofa). But you're right - there are different kinds of cats, but no different kinds of people, even on the really populated pages like the art museum and farmers market. Sigh.
C: I think Cole did try to address this somewhat--on closer inspection there are women shown in what looks like hijab, possibly some people who are meant to look Asian or African American.
However the predominant impression of these wide-scale pictures is not obvious diversity. The reader has to search for the diversity almost as much as (s)he has to look for the cat.
S: I don't know - I saw that too but I think he could have done more. Someone in a wheelchair would not have gone astray, either. It just seems a little bit cookie cutter. I know the book isn't about the people - it's aboutone boy and the cat. So perhaps he has tried to keep a similar illustration style for people/cats to invoke conversation about sameness and difference. But what a missed opportunity then, to have people look so similar (which is not how it is in the real world).
C: I agree. This said, I still think this book is delightful. If I were to use this in a Kindergarten classroom I would open up the discussion to talking about the people--use open-ended questions to see what the students do and do not notice about the people. I have done this many times using what I have seen as a challenging aspect or drawback in a book as a jumping off point for critical thinking and questioning. You wouldn't believe how deeply kindergarteners can dig!
S: I think that's a really good point. I keep thinking that children will want to find themselves. So for example if you had a child in a wheelchair they would notice after a while that there are no people in wheelchairs. I think it could be a valuable conversation to have in class. If a book had no pitfalls it would be a less interesting conversation, wouldn't it?
C: Absolutely. And this leads us to an excellent question: How much do we, as educators, librarians and/or parents, truly desire that quintessential "perfect" book? Is there such a thing? Or is a book, by its very being and definition, always going to be subjective and therefore always open to be critiqued?
S: I get what you mean. I think this would be a great book for a certain type of reader, and not for others. When I think of my old ESL class (they were grades 4 and 5 mixed), some of them would have gone to town on all the action happening in this book and others would have been instantly bored. But I knew YOU would like it as soon as you saw it. You are just that special kind of book/cat/art nerd for whom this book was written.
C: Indeed. I give "Spot the Cat" the official BookYak seal of approval.
S: You are the world's biggest nerd.
C: And proud of it!
By Sue Conolly and Christina Moorehead