Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

If Not for the Cat

If Not for the Cat

Jack Prelutsky
Illustrator:  Ted Rand 
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Greenwillow Books, 2004   ISBN: 978-0060596774

Most of us, if we are asked to describe an animal, a hummingbird perhaps, will talk at length about what the animal looks like and how it behaves. We will talk about how tiny the bird is, how fast it moves, and how colorful it is. In this collection, poet Jack Prelutsky tells us about seventeen animals using a very minimalist poetry form, the haiku. In just three short lines he captures the essence of his subjects. The poems are written from the point of view of each animal, which gives readers a very different perspective.

The mouse does not tell us about its bright eyes and whiffly little nose. Instead, it tells us that it “could be content” if there was not a “scarcity of cheese,” and if there wasn’t a cat around. Ted Rand’s beautiful painting shows us the mouse sitting by its hole, and we can see that the cat is on the other side of the hole, waiting.

Further on we meet a sea otter. It is lying on its back holding a red sea urchin in its front paws. This delectable treat will be cracked open by the otter and it will “snack on my back.”

The poet moves from animals that are commonplace, like a moth and some ants, to those that are more exotic, like an elephant and a sloth. Children who have a fondness for animals will enjoy trying to remember or guess what the animals are called, and they will surely be captivated by Ted Rand’s illustrations, which are gorgeously rendered to look like Japanese paintings.