Fuse #8

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Review of the Day: Mrs. Crump's Cat

Juuuust getting this one under the line.
Blogger was being extra naughty today. Just for that, Blogger, I'm not buying ANY ads for this site at all. Hah!

A reputable source brought this book to my attention by declaring it a cat book for those people who don't like cats. Don't get me wrong, I like cats. I think that they are fine frolicsome creatures and I wouldn't mind owning one of my own someday, weather permitting. That does not, however, mean that I always like cat picture books. Books that attempt to show cats as they are, too often have the kitties come off as stand-offish or difficult to endure. What "Mrs. Crump's Cat" does so well as show the good of cats, the bad of cats, and present both in a uniquely endearing way. Add in an illustrator of hitherto unsung talents and you've got yourself what I consider to be one of the loveliest little cat-minded picture books of this or any other year.

On a wet, rainy, relatively miserable day Mrs. Crump found, "an exquisite golden cat", ah-sitting on her porch. Mrs. Crump is a logical woman. As she tells the unwanted visitor right off the bat, "I have no use for a cat". Be that as it may, it seems cruel to send it out before it's dry. And then once it's dry it seems cruel not to give it something to eat. With each moment with the cat Mrs. Crump pushes back the time when she'll let the cat go. Maybe when it's dry. Or fed. Or when it's a sunny day. Or when the rest of the cream she bought for it is gone. By and by Mrs. Crump advertises the cat at the local shop with the note, "Found: One Sneaky Finicky Troublesome Wet Yellow Cat With Fleas". And by the end no one has claimed the animal and, as the local shop owner says, "Before you know it, you'll be sitting by the fire with the cat on your lap, wondering how you ever got along without it". Which is precisely what occurs.

Author Linda Smith was especially clever in this story distinguishing the difference between what a person says and what a person does. Some kids reading this book will pick up on the fact that the woman actually likes the cat right from the start (it would be hard not to). I, myself, enjoyed how Mrs. Crump would reinforce her own stereotypes of what a cat is like by almost making the cat fall into them. When she leaves the door open and the cat walks in out of the rain she says, "Cats are sneaky by nature". And when it refuses to eat the slice of bread she gives it she adds, "Cats are finicky as well". And should you ever need a title to illustrate the phrase, "One thing leads to another", you couldn't do better than this.

Credit illustrator David Roberts as the real force behind this book's inescapable charm, though. Ms. Smith's writing has its beauty, but Roberts is why you'll have just as hard a time letting the book go as Mrs. Crump had letting the cat go. Here we see an animal of a uniquely amiable nature. Adorable to several decimal points, the cat (never named) comes across as a perfect companion. Then there's the layout of the book. Roberts isn't afraid of switching the perspective of the images or even doing a several panel layout for kicks. There's also a wonderful sequence involving washing the cat that goes unmentioned in the text, but would have been sorely lacking had Roberts not seen fit to add it in on his own. In this way any missteps by the author or overlooked details are picked up immediately and beautifully by its wonderful illustrator. Other writers should be so lucky.

If a collection of cat picture books featuring veeery catlike felines is what you desire, add "Mrs. Crump's Cat" to your already purchased copies of "Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless Her Cat", by Lore Segal or "The Cat Who Loved Potato Soup", by Terry Farish. If you hate cats in general and would rather eat a cold bowl of leeks rather than read a book starring one, buy this book. And if you need a picture book for a boy, girl, baby, grandparent, teacher, tinker, tailor, etc. buy this book. One of the loveliest little creations I've ever had the pleasure to read, and a pure and simple joy.

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