Monday, November 14, 2016

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Our guest blogger today is Susan Kusel, a librarian, children's book buyer and selector at an independent bookstore, and the owner of a children's book consulting company. She has served on the Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Award committee, the Cybils Easy Readers and Early Chapter Book Awards committee, the 2015 Caldecott Medal selection committee and she is currently a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee. She blogs at Wizards Wireless
They all saw a picture book. I saw a beginning reader. 
Image from

I love when picture books are awarded Geisel medals and honors. Every year, I try to figure out which one will be next. Last year, I was fascinated by the beginning reader potential of Waiting by Kevin Henkes and was overjoyed to see it be recognized by the Geisel committee.

This year, I’m focused on They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel.

While this book will surely be discussed for Caldecott possibilities (and other posts contain those sentiments), I hope it will also be part of the Geisel conversation. The text is perfect for a beginning reader and the book design and illustrations further enhance the experience.

We start on the first page, surrounded by glorious white space: “The cat walked through the world with its whiskers, ears, and paws… (page turn) and the child saw A CAT.”

This pattern is repeated with eleven different animals:
And the dog saw A CAT
And the fox saw A CAT… etc.

Each new animal is a new word, which is in italics and gives the reader a visual clue that something in the pattern is different. The new words are introduced slowly and repeated multiple times. The pattern reoccurs enough times that if there are any words a reader has difficulty with, it can be mastered by the end of the book. Also helpful is that the animals are repeated in a list at the end, on a page that features a visual of every animal.

All the sentences are not completed on the page they start on, but I like that. I think it gives each sentence space to be contemplated and appreciated slowly, word by word.

The words are very simple and easily decodable. Almost every word in the book is a single syllable, with the exception of only three that contain multiple syllables: whiskers, water and imagine.

The design of the book is another real asset. Beautiful white space is present on many pages. No matter the mixture of color or the elaborate backgrounds on any given page, the words themselves are nearly always printed on a solid color. The pictures never crowd the words and there is more than enough space for each line of text. Fonts are always crucial in beginning readers, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Set in Baskerville Pro, the font is large and clear enough for someone learning to read. 

Beyond mechanics, I think it’s important to talk about the rhythm of this book. It is absolutely overpowering, and propels each turn of the page. They All Saw A Cat has one of the most powerful rhythms I’ve ever encountered in a non-rhyming book.

And then there are the illustrations, of course. They offer a different view from each animal that I think would intrigue any child.

This book teaches us that it’s all about perspective.

What’s your perspective? Is this a picture book? A beginning reader? Or both?

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you brought this one up as an early reader, because I was definitely thinking of it as a picture book and hadn't considered it as a Geisel contender. But since reading this post, I've read the book in half a dozen classrooms, and every time I am more and more convinced that it works wonderfully as a book for new readers.