May 15, 2008


Someday When My Cat Can Talk. By Caroline Lazo. Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.

Imaginary Menagerie: A Book of Curious Creatures. Poems by Julie Larios. Paintings by Julie Paschkis. Harcourt. $16.

      Cats may prowl like poetry in motion, but they don’t speak in poetry – although perhaps they would if they learned to talk. The little girl who narrates Someday When My Cat Can Talk imagines a set of poetic adventures for her kitty – a secret feline life that involves nighttime travel to the major sights of Europe. The girl thinks that her cat will someday “tell me how he hopped a ship/ and where he stowed away./ He’ll cheer the wind that blew his fur/ as he sailed beyond the bay.” In her imagination, the girl sees her cat visiting England and drinking tea; bicycling through France and winning an art competition in Montmartre; seeing the stars above St. Peter’s in Rome; stopping a bullfight in Spain; listening to opera in Vienna; and more: “He’ll remember Holland’s tulips/ that the Dutch so proudly guard./ And he’ll tell me if he missed me/ and the flowers in our yard.” Caroline Lazo’s pleasant verbal fantasies are well complemented by Kyrsten Brooker’s lovely illustrations – the one of the dressed-up cat lying among the tulips is a real gem. Intended for ages 4-8, Someday When My Cat Can Talk is an especially happy collaboration between writer and illustrator. The pages of facts at the end and the map of the cat’s imagined journey on the inside front and back covers add some real-world learning to the fun.

      Cats are not imaginary creatures, of course, even if talking cats are. In contrast, everything in Imaginary Menagerie is, well, imaginary. Here are short poems about a dragon, mermaid, centaur, sea serpent – and such less-familiar creatures as the cockatrice and naga. Julie Paschkis’ paintings are a major attraction here, their colors swirling or blotched to reflect the creatures depicted, and their forms carried over into the first letter of each creature’s name at the head of its poem. The dragon illustration, for example, is all greens and fiery red- orange, and the capital D in the word “Dragon” uses the same color scheme and actually looks like an elongated version of the creature itself. Julie Larios’ poems are thoughtful musings on the creatures, such as the centaur: “Can he be half gallop, half walk?/ Half dream, half real?/ Half neigh, half talk?/ Can he be half man, half horse?/ The answer is no./ And yes, of course.” Some poems contain invitations, as in this from “Sea Serpent”: “Tonight when you sleep,/ why don’t you swim with me/ through water?” Others affirm the creatures’ natures, as in “Gargoyle”: “How can a beast speak/ with a stone tongue,/ with a stone throat?/ My mouth is a rainspout./ I screech. I shout. This book, like Someday When My Cat Can Talk, represents an especially fine melding of words and pictures. It is aimed at slightly older children – ages 6-9 – and includes a page with additional information on the creatures depicted, so families can explore these legends further if they wish.

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