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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cat Tale, written and illustrated by Michael Hall. Greenwillow, Harper. 2012. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"They plane a board.
They board a train.
They train a duck
to duck a shoe.
They shoo a truly
naughty gnu.
They knew
a rock
could squash
a berry..."

I couldn't believe this book when I read it first, so I read it again. Then, I read it again and now I can't wait to share it early and intermediate classrooms. I am a great believer in reading such books in older grades. I will read it to adults in workshops throughout the fall and winter. They will be suitably impressed. So, I wonder, why would we think we should not share it with older readers? Yet, it will also entertain and dazzle early readers with its brilliantly constructed illustrations and its terribly funny wordplay.

I have such admiration for Michael Hall and his work. In this one, he takes a risk that proves he knows his audience and what they will love to read.  We know we're in for a treat when the title page makes us laugh. Three cat tails, accompanied by the title (Cat Tale) and the following text:

"From word to word
they find their way,
Lillian, Tilly, and William J."

Just let those words roll off your tongue a few times. You can feel them in your mouth, can't you?
The onset of their adventure is pretty low-key, packing some 'chews' and seeing some 'ewes'.
As the exploration of homonyms continues, the action escalates and becomes downright dangerous at times. Brightly colored, textured, and sporting familiar shapes, each new illustration makes it perfectly clear what is happening and allows for understanding the words pairs as they are and box, flea and flee, steer and steer. Is there no end to these 'punny' pages?

When things go awry, the understanding remains clear with the help of the simply constructed and beautifully brilliant artwork. As they get back on track we wander with them, always adventurous and wanting to know more. This is a book meant to be shared, and discussed, and enjoyed, and instructive (without anyone knowing that is the case, thank goodness!) with all ages. It is deserving of our attention and warrants a place on library shelves everywhere.

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