If Not for the Cat

Book cover: ‘If Not for the Cat'
Jack Prelutsky
Ted Rand
60 596 775
Harper Collins
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
40 pages
Grade / Age level: 

This is what a picture book should be. A perfect pairing of beautiful text and beautiful illustrations.

I love haiku and Jack Prelutsky's verses are beautiful examples of the form. I love poems that linger, that take up residence in your heart and resonate long after the book is closed. The title poem has made a nest in my ear and sings to me while I'm doing the dishes:

If not for the cat,
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.

It has something of the simplicity and weight that I find so pleasing in William Carlos Williams. And several others are beginning to work their way in as well. Like this one about the kangaroo:

Safe inside my pouch
Sleeps the future of my kind--
Delicate and frail.

Nor am I the only one. After only two or three readings my three-year old remembers and recites quite a few lines herself. I have found her picking up the book on her own, flipping through the pages, and reciting what she remembers.

Each poem is in the voice of a different animal and Prelutsky's genius is in the personality of the different voices, hard to convey in a so short a form as haiku. I love the way he captures the slow sloth, the hive mind of the ants, (humorously followed immediately by the ant eater), and the threatening presence of the snake and the skunk.

Especially memorable are the rounded polysyllables of the jellyfish:

Boneless, translucent,
We undulate, undulate,

Ted Rand's paintings are a lovely match, each one has a very different tone, well suited to the paired poem. My favorite is definitely the dark, moody one of the moth drawing close to a candle. Though the bright hummingbird hovering near festive orange nasturtiums is also right up there.

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