May 19, 2016


Stick Cat #1: A Tail of Two Kitties. By Tom Watson. Harper. $12.99.

Bedtime Stories for Cats. By Leigh Anne Jasheway. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Bedtime Stories for Dogs. By Leigh Anne Jasheway. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Biscuit Feeds the Pets. By Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Pictures by Pat Schories. Harper. $16.99.

     Fresh from his repeated successes with the Stick Dog series, featuring drawings that are deliberately amateurish and stories supposed to have sprung from the mind of one of the preteens at whom the books are aimed, Tom Watson has now expanded his repertoire by creating Stick Cat. He has not, however, expanded it very much. Once again he has created an amiable, clear-thinking central character with rectangular body, circular head, and a modest interest in adventures. Stick Dog’s interests are invariably food-related, but it remains to be seen what Stick Cat’s will be. In A Tail of Two Kitties the focus is music, but who knows if that will continue? Watson’s new series still has some finding-of-its-way ahead of it, not only thematically but also in terms of characters. Stick Dog leads a pack, and the other four dogs have differing personalities and various ways of seeing – usually mis-seeing – the world, with the result that Stick Dog has to be the sensible center of each story even as his compatriots misinterpret pretty much everything in ways tied to each one’s personality. Cats are not pack animals, though, and Stick Cat lives in a city apartment, not somewhere that would allow him to roam freely, as Stick Dog does. So Watson gives Stick Cat one single friend, Edith – the second of the two kitties in the title of the first book – and tries to roll all the observational imperfections of Stick Dog’s pack into a single character. This does not work very well: Edith ends up being a rather unpleasant character, thoroughly unaware of pretty much everything about herself, unobservant and selfish to such a degree that she actually puts Stick Dog’s life in danger during their first adventure. Hopefully she will become more bearable, or cat-able, in later books. Thank goodness Watson’s plot rescues this one: Stick Cat likes to watch and listen to the man who tunes pianos and then plays them at the piano factory across the street, but one day the man’s arms get trapped in a grand piano when its top falls onto them – and Stick Cat decides to rescue “Mr. Music,” as he calls the man. Edith makes the rescue decidedly more difficult, but eventually it is she who gets another man in to help after she accidentally sits on Mr. Music’s dropped cell phone and it happens to dial one of his co-workers. That scene, and one in which Stick Cat puts clothespins all over his body, are funny enough to rescue the book from its less-attractive elements, all of which are named Edith. At the end, Stick Cat gets a piano recital just for himself, courtesy of the now-rescued Mr. Music, and drops happily off to sleep to await his next adventure.

     Had the music not been available, Stick Cat might have availed himself of Bedtime Stories for Cats, in which Leigh Anne Jasheway retells such fairy tales as “Kitty and the Beast,” “The Three Kitty Cats Gruff,” and even – in a mildly noir-ish “detective story” way – “Puss and the Missing Boots.” Then Jasheway throws in some reconstituted and refocused nursery rhymes at the end, and the result is considerable amusement for cat lovers, if not necessary for felines themselves. Jasheway’s Bedtime Stories for Cats and its companion, Bedtime Stories for Dogs, originally date to 1996-1997, but the new books are suitably updated with references to YouTube, the “Catdashians,” and other elements of 21st-century life. The book for dogs (and their people) follows the same pattern as the one for cats, including “The Three Little Pugs,” “Goldilocks and the Three Cats,” “Cinderdane,” and the like; and yes, there are rethought nursery rhymes here as well. Each book gets sentimental toward the end. “Alanis and Her Magic Belly” is a story about the real-world wonders of rubbing a cat’s belly to make human problems “magically disappear,” and “Angel Dogs” is about pups that do not behave angelically at all but are angels as far as their owners are concerned. Really, Jasheway’s books are bedtime stories for cat lovers and dog lovers, not for companion animals themselves – but certainly humans might consider cuddling up with a canine or feline companion and reading the books aloud, if only so their voices will lull everyone to sleep at the same time.

     Very young puppy fanciers will find bedtime, or anytime, a great time to read Biscuit Feeds the Pets, which actually includes both dogs and cats – and fish and guinea pigs, too. This is a “My First” book in the I Can Read! series, which means it is “ideal for sharing with emergent readers.” But unlike many books in this early-reading series, which are “based on” characters found elsewhere, this work is created by the same author and illustrator who produce Biscuit books for older kids, Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Pat Schories. As a result, the book serves as a wonderful introduction to Biscuit and the humans surrounding him, and also reflects the same sense of amusement and playfulness as other, somewhat more elaborate Biscuit books. Biscuit and his little-girl owner show up at Mrs. Gray’s house to help feed her many pets, and all goes well until Biscuit gets into his usual mild mischief after discovering a litter of new  puppies that are almost as big as he is. A little too much enthusiastic play results in water and kibble spilling all over the place, but no one is upset, and Biscuit gets a compliment for finding his own way to help feed the pets. Biscuit is always cutely endearing, and kids who are just learning to read will enjoy meeting him here if they have not done so before – and will likely be encouraged by this story to seek out others by Capucilli and Schories that are just as doggone enjoyable.

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