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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Katzel, the Cat Who Composed, written by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Amy June Bates. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"When Moshe was finished
working for the day, he went
out for an afternoon walk to
listen to the sounds of the city.
One particular day, he turned
a corner and heard a sound he
had never heard on the street
before. It was a small sound.
It was a sad sound. It was a ... "

Moshe Cotel  is a composer and a man who hears music wherever he is. It is his habit to take walks around New York, listening to its sounds in hopes of improving his compositions. One day's walk results in the rescue of a tiny kitten whose response to Moshe's music is noticeable and much appreciated by Moshe. His decision to enter a music contest seems a bad one when he cannot find inspiration to create a 'no longer than sixty second' composition. Impossible, Moshe thinks!

One day Ketzel walks across the piano keys and unknowingly creates a wonderful composition that Moshe will enter in the contest - and it is twenty-one seconds long.

"Moshe folded up Ketzel's composition
and wrote a note to the judges. "This
piano solo, 'Piece for Piano: Four Paws'
was written by Ketzel Cotel. It is her first
composition. She hopes you enjoy it."

After posting it and forgetting all about it, Moshe is surprised to get a letter in the mail letting the two composers know that Ketzel's entry won a certificate of special mention. A young girl plays it at a celebratory concert, and Ketzel is present to hear her name called. A happy Meow! escapes Moshe's jacket where she is hiding. Instead of being thrown out, the judges allow Ketzel the composer to remain to hear her song played.  It immediately wins praise and is often played in concerts on the world stage. For that, Ketzel receives a royalty cheque that she promptly takes to the bank to be cashed. Many tins of cat food are the happy result.

An author's note provides needed information to explain that the book is based of the real tale of Moshe and Ketzel, a pair who loved each other and music. The endearing illustrations, done in watercolor, gouache and pencil, are a perfect match to Ms. Newman's honest and sincere presentation of this story. The colors add warmth and a delicate balance from the streets of New York to Moshe's cluttered, comfortable apartment, and further to the opulence of the concert hall. Ketzel is a black and white ball of fluff, full of personality and begging to be loved by all who read about her.

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