Monday, August 31, 2015

How About a Literature Unit on Cats? 20 books & ideas to get started!

I've written many posts about Key Themes in children's literature. While cats haven't taken over the children's literature field quite as much as they've seized the Internet, there are MANY books about them. Here is a sample. I'd love to hear of some of your favourites as well.

A unit on cats would be a lot of fun. There would be so many angles. You could consider:
  • the adventures of cats
  • ways cats 'change' our world
  • the many personalities of cats
  • cats from many nations
  • their relationship to people
  • the world through the eyes of cats

1. 'Sam, Bangs & Moonshine' by Evaline Ness

Sam (short for Samantha) is a fisherman's daughter who dreams wonderful dreams, Her father calls them moonshine. But when her 'stretched' stories bring a disaster to her friend Thomas (and her cat Bangs). Sam learns finally to judge the difference between reality and moonshine.

Sam, Bangs & Moonshine was the winner of the 1967 Caldecott Medal

2. 'Moses the Kitten' by James Herriot and illustrated by Peter Barrett

James Herriot is well known to us as a storyteller. 'Moses the Kitten' is a story about a tiny and scruffy kitten found beside a frozen pond. It is nursed back to health on a nearby farm.

3. 'The Cat in the Hat' by Dr Seuss

Dick and Sally are stuck inside on a cold and wet day with nothing to do. That is until a very large cat in an absurd hat turns up. This transforms a dull day into a crazy adventure that almost wrecks the house while their mother is out.

'The Cat in the Hat Comes Back'

This is a follow on from 'The Cat in the Hat'. It’s a snowy day and Dick and Sally are stuck shovelling . . . until the Cat in the Hat arrives to liven things up (to say the least!).

4. 'The Tale of Tom Kitten', Beatrix Potter

This Beatrix Potter classic tale is set in the cottage garden Beatrix created herself at Hill Top, the farm she owned near the village of Sawrey. It is the 8th book in her well-known 23 book series of little books. Tom and his sisters look so smart in their new clothes. But when their mother sends them outside, she couldn't possibly guess what a mess they will get themselves into.

'The Tale of Ginger and Pickles'

Ginger (a dog) and Pickles (a ginger cat) have a very popular shop. Their customers loved to buy their provisions there, but they don't like to pay and are always after credit. The Tale of Ginger and Pickles is book 18 in Beatrix Potter series.

5. 'Catwings' by Ursula K. Le Guin and illustrated by S.D. Schindler

Mrs Tabby can't quite explain why her four kittens were born with wings. But she is grateful that they use their flying skills to soar away from the dangerous city also have its difficulties.

6. 'Slinky Malinki' by Lynley Dodd

Slinky Malinki is a character that first appeared in Dodd's famous story of 'Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy'. This rascally cat gets up to lots of mischief.  At night he turns into a thief.  There have been a number of other Slinky Malinki stories from Dodd (here).

7. 'Where Is Catkin?' by Janet Lord and illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Catkin jumps off Amy's lap and heads out for his daily hunt. He hears the creatures hidden in the yard cricket, frog, mouse, snake but cant find them. But the hunter becomes the hunted before Catkin gets safely back home.

8. 'My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes' by Eve Sutton and illustrated by Lynley Dodd

The Internet is filled with cats from around the world that do exciting things. This simple picture book tells of some of the many and simple adventures cats can have. This ordinary house cat, likes to hide in boxes. This is a wonderful rhyming story that is perfect for beginning readers.

9. 'The Boy Who Drew Cats: A Japanese Folktale' by Arthur A. Levine and illustrated by Frédéric Clément

This is a mystical traditional Japanese tale. In it, we follow Kenji on a journey to a mysterious mountain, an eerie, abandoned temple, and the threat of the terrible Goblin Rat. The beautiful illustrations (paintings) add greatly to drama of the story.

10. 'The Church Mouse' written and illustrated by Graham Oakley

This was Oakley's first book in the series of books about the life and adventures of some mice that live in an old church and get up to many adventures and was written in 1972. Since this many have followed including 'The Church Mice Adrift' and 'The Church Cat Abroad'. In the initial book Arthur the church mouse is living in the Wortlethorpe church vestry, but he gets very lonely with only Sampson the church cat for company. So he decides to search for some new companions.

11. 'Come down, cat!' by Sonya Hartnett and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

The day is ending, night is falling, and Nicholas's cat won't come down from the roof! She licks her paws while he worries about her. How will he coax her back to his safe and warm house?

12. 'Madeline and the Cats of Rome' (from the Madeline series) by John Bemelmans Marciano

This is one of the well-known Madeline books. The Paris skies are grey, so Miss Clavel and the twelve little girls are leaving for the better weather of spring in Rome. As well as the great sites of Rome Madeline has an unexpected adventure, that involves a thief, a chase, and many, many cats.

13. 'No Kiss for Mother' by Tomi Ungerer

Tomi Ungerer is a genius as an author and illustrator. This book might not be as well known to some as some of his other works, but it is a wonderful book. The central character is Piper Paw, a feisty and mischievous cat. Hi rebellious ways are a challenge to his parents with some interesting outcomes.

14. 'The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch' by Ronda and David Armitage

I've always loved this book, and so does every child who hears it or reads it. It's a simple plot, The lighthouse keeper gets his lunch every by flying fox that holds a basket that his wife has prepared for him and sends down the wire from home on the cliffs to the lighthouse. But the seagulls begin to steal it so serious steps need to be taken to solve the problem. This includes one with Hamish the cat.

15. 'Dog In, Cat Out' by Gillian Rubinstein and illustrated by Ann James

This delightful word concept book is as simple as its title suggests, but there is linguistic complexity in the words and depth to every illustration. Cat and dog jostle for favour and precedence in this family. So, if Dog is out, Cat will slip in. And on it goes. The book has just four words. 'Dog in, cat out', with just one variation, on the last page just one is in. You'll need to read the book to see who it is.

16. 'John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat' by Jenny Wagner and illustrated by Ron Brooks

This is one of my favourite picture books by a star team. Rose lives alone with her faithful dog John Brown, but one day things change when Rose sights a black cat out side and wants to invite it in. John Brown doesn't think Rose needs a cat and so resists her efforts to bring it in. Once day Rose just refuses to get up. This is a story with many levels of meaning that will suit readers from 4-8 years.

17. 'Mog the Forgetful Cat' written and illustrated  by Judith Kerr

Mog is always in trouble because she is very forgetful. She forgets that she has a cat flap, and even when she has already had dinner. One night when an uninvited visitor turns up her forgetfulness is helpful. In every book that has followed, Mog gets into a different situation with another new character. 
Judith Kerr wrote her very popular 'Mog' series over a period of 42 years. She finally killed off this delightful little cat in 2002 ('Goodbye, Mog') as she neared the age of 80. In her final Mog book she dies of old age and goes to heaven. She based her illustrations on her own family home in London. The two children in the books were named after her middle names.

18. 'The World that Jack Built' by Ruth Brown

This wonderful book draws on the well-known rhyme and gives it a significant twist and an ecological theme. We follow a cat as it chases a butterfly across a section of its world and as we do so we see a transformation in the ecology of the world 'that Jack built'. In stark contrast to the beauty at the start is a world polluted and degraded by the end of the book.

19. 'Crikey and Cat' by Chris McKimmie

This is a story centred on a cat that speaks of the centrality of creativity and friendship to life. It is an intriguing and captivating book. When the stars don't come out, sometimes all you need to fix it is a ladder, some friends and a hardware store.

20.  'Millions of Cats' by Wanda Gag    

There was an old man and an old woman who were lonely. They seek a cat, but the old man finds not one cat, hundred and thousands, millions and billions and trillions of cats. How can he decide which one will be the best pet? He brought them all home. A tale about an old couple and how they came to have just one cat to call their own. This is classic story that has been loved by many generations. Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1929.

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