________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 11 . . . .February 4, 2005


When Cats Go Wrong.

Norm Hacking. Illustrated by Cynthia Nugent.
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books, 2004.
32 pp., cloth, $24.95. (Includes CD featuring the song "When Cats Go Wrong").
ISBN 1-55192-729-2.

Subject Heading:
Cats-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 5 / Ages 5-10.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

**** /4



This song is a book

     This book is a song

That tells the true tale

     Of When Cats Go Wrong.

Written and performed by acclaimed folk-singer songwriter Norm Hacking and illustrated by Cynthia Nugent, When Cats Go Wrong is a brilliant example of the successful marriage of vocal and visual artistry. The title of the book is taken from a song of the same name included in Hacking's latest CD entitled Orange Cats Make the Best Friends. Hacking, who has a gift for writing engaging melodic songs with humorous insights, is well-known for his love of cats. It may give the reader quite a shock to hear Hacking's deep serious baritone voice singing his little kitty ditty to the passionate beat of the tango:

Life with a naughty kitty

     Isn't very pretty

So I sing this mournful song

     About when cats go wrong.

     Fortunately for readers of all ages, the author appends an explanatory note ("What's in a Tune') at the end of the book. He explains what a tango is and that using a serious art form, like opera or tango, to sing about a trivial subject is a kind of humor called "High Burlesque." Of course, it is not really necessary to know this to enjoy the hilarity of Hacking's expressive baritone voice singing lines such as:

Everything's in disarray

     It makes me grump and mutter

There's cat hair on the tablecloth

     And tongue marks on the butter.

     The note gives a brief history of the tango and the "tangomania" which swept the world in the early 1900's. According to the author, yellow was declared the official tango colour. Posters advertising artistic, musical and theatrical events in Paris at that time featured bright yellow and orange colours with flowing shapes and rhythmic lines. The author writes that the most famous poster artist at this time was Toulouse Lautrec and that "The art in this book was inspired by both the tango itself and the celebrated posters of Paris."

internal art     Cynthia Nugent's bright, bold paintings with their vivid yellow and orange backgrounds do indeed invoke the posters of Lautrec. They are the perfect accompaniment to Hacking's tale of a mischievous kitty. When Cats Go Wrong is the third picture book about cats that this award-winning artist has illustrated. Readers will remember her for her illustrations of the feline featured in Lois Simmie's Mister Got to Go and Mister Got to Go and Arnie.

It is perhaps an oversight that the name of the talented multi-instrumentalist who accompanies Norm Hacking in his rendition of When Cats Go Wrong does not appear anywhere in the book (although his name does appear on the CD). The instrumentation created by Kirk Elliott (the musician featured on Orange Cats Make the Best Friends) is nothing short of terrific and ends with a truly inspired piece of fiddling. Librarians, teachers, parents and grandparent - this picture book/CD combination is not to be missed!

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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