cover image IF NOT FOR THE CAT


Jack Prelutsky, , illus. by Ted Rand. . HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-06-059677-4

At once elegant and droll, this fine collaboration spotlights various animals through 17 haiku, each set against a stunning full-spread, close-range illustration of the featured creature in its natural habitat. Author and artist tip their hats to Eastern traditions with the poetic form and with mix-media compositions that echo Chinese silkscreen. The book takes its title from the first line of the inaugural poem ("If not for the cat,/ And the scarcity of cheese,/ I could be content"), and Rand's (Here Are My Hands ) wry image of a mouse looking out from the darkness that dominates the spread, safe behind the wall, to the whiskered snout of a cat perched by the mouse hole, provides ideal accompaniment. By contrast, the brilliantly lit scene that follows highlights a glorious tangle of nasturtiums visited by a hummingbird. Prelutsky's (Scranimals ) versatile verse adopts a pleasing range of first-person voices. Against a symphony of blues, the words of the jellyfish emulate its motion as it seems to swim across the spread ("Boneless, translucent,/ We undulate, undulate,/ Gelatinously"). A moth asks ponderously, "How foolish I am./ Why am I drawn to the flame/ Which extinguishes?"; Rand visually links the color of the moth with the halo around the candle, making its attraction seem inevitable. Though it's not difficult to identify the critters (specified on the final page), younger children especially will have fun naming each species. Deceptive in their simplicity, these haiku will send aspiring wordsmiths off to try their own. Ages 3-up. (Oct.)