This website is about two of our favourite things—books and cats—so it seems fitting that this week’s purr-fect pick is a book about a cat.
When my daughter was in the first grade, she brought home from school Marie-Louise Gay's beautiful picture book Caramba. We were already familiar with the Canadian author's sweet Stella and Sam series, and were thrilled to have another of her books to read.
Gay's stories draw you into wonderfully whimsical worlds. Her delicate watercolours are warm and inviting, and her characters instantly likeable. They brim with such genuine emotion and vulnerability that they feel like friends you’ve known forever, even if you’re meeting them for the first time.
That's why Caramba's story is so enticing. He's like any other young cat, except for one thing: he can’t fly. He watches other cats swoop and glide through the air, but he simply falls flat on his face.
“What? You can’t fly?” other cats say to Caramba in disbelief. “Every cat knows how to fly.”
It’s a feeling many children will experience at some point—the dismay at not being able to do what your peers can.
Caramba keeps trying, though. One day, after yet another attempt to fly, he falls out of the air. He lands in the water below with a splash, and is surprised to discover he can swim.
“Cats can’t swim!” he’s told.
“Well, I can," replies Caramba. We love that this kind, gentle, brave soul never gives up and eventually discovers his own special talent.
This is a lovely, inspiring story to read with your little ones.
A special shout-out to the TD Grade One Book Giveaway, which is how my daughter received a copy of Caramba in 2010. Each year, first-graders in schools across Canada receive a free copy of a selected children's book to take home. More than half a million books are given away annually. What a great way to encourage reading and introduce families to Canadian authors!
Books in series: 2
Caramba and Henry
For more about Marie-Louise Gay, check out our post about her chapter book Travels with My Family, which we wrote about here.
Melanie Watt’s gorgeous picture book, Augustine, is as much fun for grown-ups as it is for kids. It's full of little surprises, and I never tired of pulling it off the shelf to read with my children at bedtime.
The book tells a simple, timeless story that many kids can relate to: what it's like to start school as the new kid, and to not know anyone.
In this case, the new 'kid' is Augustine, a quiet, artistic little penguin. Her dad's job uproots the family from their home at the South Pole, and takes them, literally, to the opposite end of the earth: the North Pole. She sadly packs her things and says good-bye to her teachers, friends, cousins, and grandparents.
Augustine is named after Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and this sets the tone for the love of art that's infused throughout the book. When Augustine is alone at recess at her new school, she takes out a pencil crayon and starts sketching. She's using a blue crayon, so of course, she calls it her Blue Recess Period. Soon, Augustine's curious classmates gather around, and she begins making friends.
The left-hand pages are divided into a 3 x 3 grid, with a simple, playful drawing in each square. My daughter and I had fun fitting each picture into the plot, as we read: there are the cards she plays Go-Fish with; here's the breakfast she has before school; these are the eight igloos her family looked at before moving into one (which igloo would you choose?). There's so much to look at and talk about.
In the centre of each grid is a sketch by Augustine, inspired by a real work of art. You'll recognize the penguin versions of the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles, Grant Wood's American Gothic., and more. Of course, Augustine's interpretation of The Scream represents the first day of school.
Augustine is a beautiful and enriching read. Smile to yourself as you pick out Augustine's versions of famous paintings. Teach your child about the masters, and talk about how art brings us together. Or, simply enjoy the story of a sweet, creative little penguin who finds her way just by being herself.
The interesting thing about tooth fairies is their different approaches to their work. Some fairies leave a coin, while others leave a $20 bill. Some write a note in fancy fairy script, and others magically change the colour of your bedside glass of water by dipping their dress into it.
(I had no idea that this latter fairy existed until she visited one of my daughter's friends. Kate was disappointed this fairy never visited us, but luckily, she did come the next time Kate lost a tooth.)
April and Esme Tooth Fairies, by Bob Graham, is a gorgeous picture book that updates the story of the tooth fairy for our modern world. Seven-year-old April gets a call on her cell phone for her very first tooth fairy mission. She comes from a long line of tooth fairies and is excited to finally be allowed to fly off and collect a tooth with her little sister Esme.
The illustrations are delightfully detailed. Look closely at one, and you’ll see a small house with a thatched roof, hidden off a busy highway. The sign on the house says, “J & F Underhill, Tooth Fairies, est. 1691.” It’s easy to imagine fairies such as these living among us, their tiny home tucked beside a tree stump as trucks go rambling past.
Both of my children loved the story of April convincing her parents that she’s ready to take on the responsibility of tooth-collecting. It’s a mission that almost goes awry, but April is able to text her mother for advice.
We read April and Esme Tooth Fairies every time we expected a tooth fairy visit, and sometimes when we weren’t. Now that the children are older, we haven’t talked about the tooth fairy in ages. Dylan lost a tooth last week (he's eleven), and he nonchalantly handed it to me to dispose of.
If the tooth fairy visits your house, this book will bring sweet smiles to your little ones. I have fond memories of our tooth fairy days. Enjoy the magic!
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.