April 25, 2012

Mama Cat Has Three Kittens

Mama Cat Has Three Kittens
By Denise Fleming; illus. by author
1-4 Preschool Primary Henry Holt 32 pp.
978-0805057454 Hardcover $17.95

Mama Cat has three kittens, two of whom - Fluffy and Skinny - follow in her footsteps as she washes her paws and walks the stone wall and engages in a number of other classically feline endeavors. Boris, the third kitten, naps... until Mama Cat, Fluffy and Skinny curl up to nap too. Then Boris comes alive, washing his paws and pouncing, (if only to his next napping stop, this time with his Mama and siblings).

Mama Cat Has Three Kittens is a visually beautiful book. Fleming, an obvious cat lover, captures feline body language and behavior with surprising ease. Her use of deeply saturated colors on handmade paper gives the illustrations a textured look that works especially well on the cats, with their bold colorations and nuanced expressions. As an added bit of charm, Fleming adds trios of other creatures to each spread (bees, ants and beetles, etc.), as well as one intrepid Mama Mouse, (the purpose of whose foraging is revealed at the end). Unfortunately, the text falls flat beside the vibrant pictures. While there is nothing particularly wrong with the narrative, it's pattern feels unfulfilled when, after napping through his family's long series of activities, Boris wakes only to pounce once and nap again. Rather than vindicating the little one who lags behind or marches to his own drum, Boris, though made a central figure throughout by Fleming's repetition of "Boris naps" fails to ever take on a dynamic quality of his own. A small thing, but one that contributes to the slightness of the story. That said, very young readers will appreciate the bold font and simple vocabulary, while pre-readers will respond to the illustrations and love playing "find-the-mouse". A solid book overall, Mama Cat Has Three Kittens fails only in that it could have been more than solid - it could have been great.

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