The Catawampus Cat, Jason Carter Eaton (author), Gus Gordon (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2017
When I first received this delightful picture book I thought the author, Jason Carter Eaton, had made up the word “catawampus” to suit the story’s feline character, and to have some fun. While fun definitely is had in a reading of this book, it turns out that catawampus actually means askew, awry, or positioned diagonally; and the characters in the tale certainly have the angles of their world changed when the Catawampus Cat enters their life and sparks a revolutionary new way of being.
While the cat is the character that begins and ends the book, as well as strolls through the pages throughout, we don’t find out too much about it except for its wonky way of being, and its recognisable feline self-confidence and lack of interest in the opinions of others. However, this is a big part of what makes the picture book so magical – the cat is reminiscent of a fairy who works her magic in fairytales or a cowboy who wanders into a western for a while; there to help change come about, while remaining unaffected by it.
When the cat wanders into town, the occupants start to tilt their heads to work out why he is angled so, and suddenly find themselves looking at life, their surroundings, and each other with a brand new perspective. For example, lost items and new opportunities are found, troubled relationships are mended, jobs become more creative, and general happiness rises.
The timely message of seeing things differently and staying true to yourself is beautifully subtle throughout. It is further heightened when, after being honoured with his own special day of the year and a celebration, the Catawampus Cat examines the now-leaning crowd, stretches, and walks back out of town perfectly straight and uniquely himself. He is not interested in conforming and is content to go about his life unaffected by the opinions of others.
The book will have children giggling at the way the townsfolk react to the cat’s presence and some of the changes made, but they will also no doubt absorb the work’s point of view on the importance of perspective, creativity, and individuality as they read.
The intriguing, thought-provoking, and memorable text is only further heightened by illustrator Gus Gordon’s pictures. With his typical lively and charismatic style, Gordon uses bright, collage-style multimedia illustrations to depict the bustling town and its quirky, energetic inhabitants, while drawing the cat simply and discreetly in gray throughout.
The joyful illustrations combine elements such as photographs, line drawings, watercolour and digital renderings and even vintage images to bring this town and its characters to life. This means children can have hours of fun poring over the detail-filled pages to take in every little aspect. Plenty of humour and pathos is depicted in the illustrators too, so they pair perfectly with Eaton’s text.
This is a charming collaboration well worth adding to your reading list.
Please note: a complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.