cover image The Secret Life of Walter Kitty

The Secret Life of Walter Kitty

Barbara Jean Hicks, , illus. by Dan Santat. . Knopf, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-375-83196-6

D espite a promising title and endpapers picturing a chameleonic hero, this cat tale fails to deliver on its allusion to James Thurber’s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Walter Kitty looks and acts like an ordinary cinnamon cat in a suburban home. He hangs out in the front-yard tree, digs in loose garden dirt and climbs uninvited onto people’s laps and the supper table. When his owner, Mrs. Biddle, calls him “Wally,” “Kitten” and “Baby,” he shows up—particularly if treats and catnip are involved. All the while, he quietly maintains, “my real name is Fang.” In his daydreams—too few and far between here—Walter becomes a pouncing tiger, a pirate (“Captain Fang”), and a fearless archaeologist on the Indiana Jones model. Using ink, acrylic and digital media, Santat (The Guild of Geniuses ) pictures Walter grinning like the Cheshire Cat with steel-trap jaws; he sketches the feline as an astronaut, firefighter and top-hatted gentleman, and juxtaposes these energetic caricatures with prosaic images of Walter grooming or tracking mud across the linoleum. Yet the narrative does not expand on the cat’s active imagination. Hicks (Jitterbug Jam ) instead focuses on Walter’s household behavior: “I don’t know what Mrs. Biddle would do without me,” the cat muses, licking plates clean and dusting the floor by sliding on it. Whereas Thurber’s version satirizes middle-class complacency and pent-up aggression, Walter’s tepid home life suits him fine, and his fantasy world remains undeveloped. Ages 5-8. (Apr.)