CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 3. . . .September 22, 2017
The Amazing Crafty Cat.
Charise Mericle Harper.
New York, NY: First Second/Roaring Brook Press (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2017.
122 pp., hardcover, $19.50.
Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.
Review by Ellen Heaney.
In recent years, a proliferation of simple texts in graphic novel format has made practise reading a lot more fun. Think Ashley Spires’ “Binky the Cat” series. Think the “Flying Beaverton Brothers”. Or Harper’s own “Fashion Kitty” books, which are for a slightly older audience.
The story here revolves around little Birdie, a girl who loves to do crafts to the point where she has developed an alter ego named Crafty Cat who can make almost anything – but that’s a secret. It’s Birdie’s birthday, and she has made some panda cupcakes which she is proudly bears to school for a classroom tradition, the “birthday break”. As she walks along, she imagines the reception she will get:
[Boy 1]: Eating cupcakes is a lot better than what we did for Anya’s birthday break.
[Boy 2]: OH NO! You reminded me.
[Anya]: I wrote a birthday play, and everyone gets a part.
I am the queen, and you’re all my loyal servants.
[Girl 1]: You are the most beautiful queen in the world.
[Boy 1]: Everything you say is true.
[Anya]: Say it like you mean it!
[Boy 2]: What kind of play is this?...
[Boy 2]: That was the worst.
[Boy 1]: Birdie is the best.
[Boy 1 and Boy 2]: YAY FOR CUPCAKES!
Unfortunately, Birdie takes a tumble on the street, and not only are the treats and her dress spoiled, but she is accused of being a litterbug by a passing busybody.
It gets worse: the backup cupcakes that were left a home have gone off to work with Dad. When Grandpa is asked to come to the rescue, instead of bringing more black-and-white cupcakes, he brings something else that is black and white: olives and cottage cheese! Oh, no! Birdie, whose sartorial problems have been taken care of by an inventive teacher who has found her a rather oversized lab coat, tries to make the best of the situation:
[Birdie]: Okay, everyone, forget the cottage cheese – it’s too messy to hand out. But I have olives. Who wants one?
Yum, yum. Lucky you.
[Boy 3]: What is that? It looks like DEER POOP!
Do we have to eat deer poop?...
[Boy 3, Girl 2, Girl 3]: SAY NO TO DEER POOP!
Only crabby Anya likes the olives (although she won’t admit it), and in the absence of anything the rest of the class will eat, Birdie (aka Crafty Cat) has the kids get down to making Panda Pals with paper and scissors and markers.
The subdued colour scheme of sepia, gray and green belies the lively nature of the dialogue and events. The children are expressive and true-to-life, and the adults – well, they are true-to life as well, sometimes absented-minded, and not always able to understand the importance of a child’s request.
Harper has scored a hit here with an amusing story that has the added benefit of an appendix which includes directions for making several panda-themed crafts. This promises to be the first of a continuing series.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia.
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