cover image Negative Cat

Negative Cat

Sophie Blackall. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-25719-3

“Ugh! I’m not so great at reading!” confesses the cat enthusiast who narrates this story by Caldecott Medalist Blackall (If You Come to Earth). Having persuaded their family to adopt a feline “on Day 427 of asking for a cat,” the brown-skinned child promises to care for the animal and read for 20 minutes each day as part of the deal. But “words only make sense when I read them out loud slowly,” and Maximilian August Xavier, the orange-striped cat from the shelter, proves utterly devoid of charm—a negative cat. While classmates’ felines perform all manner of tricks, Max “stares at the wall” and “leaves hairballs on the rug, his tail in the butter, and poop in the vestibule.” The family complains, and a consultation with a shelter worker is arranged. In a sweetly suspenseful sequence, the narrator discovers that reading—“slowly. Out loud. The only way I know how”—is the key to Max’s heart. In dusty blues and greens, oranges and pinks, digital artwork “superimposed on the reverse side of vintage wallpaper” dials in on the interracial family’s dynamics and facial expressions. (Scorn demonstrated by the child’s older sibling is particularly vivid: “We should’ve gotten a dog,” they mutter, busy with nail polish.) Max is, of course, adorable, and the discovery that reading to animals can benefit both the children who read and the animals who listen is the story’s hidden treasure. Ages 4–8. [em]Agent: Marietta Zacker, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Aug.) [/em]