cover image I Am the Cat

I Am the Cat

Alice Schertle. HarperCollins Publishers, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13153-1

Alternating narrative poems with haikus, this mostly savvy compilation of verse distills the essence of cat with humor and, occasionally, wry elegance. Schertle (Advice to a Frog) is at her best in her comic poems. In the tongue-in-cheek ""Sophie, Who Taunted the Dogs,"" she describes the demise of her feline heroine, slain by a ""cur"" she has unwisely teased, and follows the episode up with a mock-ghostly conclusion: ""And still, it is said, when the moon rises round/ and gold as a cat's eye, the dogs hear a sound.../ That devilish voice--/ how it hunts them and haunts them!/ That soft, silken song--/ how it teases and taunts them!"" The haikus and the more serious poems have eloquent moments (a cat ""lap[s] in soft gray/ waves against my legs"") but sometimes fall prey to banality or clich (a sweet ode to a kitten ends with a reference to its ""tiger's heart""). Buehner (The Escape of Marvin the Ape) accentuates the swing rhythm of the text, illustrating the haikus with small insets and heightening the jaunty poems in energetic page-size acrylic and oil paintings with exaggerated perspectives. As he did in My Life with the Wave, Buehner paints in hidden creatures (dinosaurs as well as domestic animals) and cleverly planted surprises (one cat marches past a background of bird wallpaper, on which five birds have been Xed out with chalk). Ages 6-up. (Mar.)