I am Cat by Jackie Morris is an elegiac hymn about the regal, proud and stunningly beautiful nature of wild cats. The book opens with the eponymous Cat, a domestic ginger tom, sleeping and dreaming, dreaming of other cats’ lives; of the Cheetah, “the sharp-eyed running cat, / fast as the wind over the bleached plains of Africa“, the Snow Leopard “on the roof of the world“, the Scottish Wildcat, “solitary, and fierce, ancient, almost a memory” as well as the Lion, Tiger, Cheetah, Lynx and more.
Morris’ poetic text takes us out from our cosy homes with the real or imagined cat curled up on our laps, and whisks us around the world, opening windows into other ways of being, other landscapes, other lives. Don’t we all (human or cat) daydream occasionally about what it is like to be other than we are, and surely this is some of the appeal of this stately book.
With somewhat bittersweet appropriateness (given that many of the cats featured in this book are endangered) Morris’s illustrations give the cats a mythic, legendary stature. The scale, the richness of colour, the composition of each illustration is marvellous, fabulous [f Fr. fabuleux, f. L fabula, FABLE]; unfortunately it may not be too long before cats such as the Amur Leopard are only known through stories, or images of snow leopards are looked on as being so beautiful that they must be the product of fantasy (or why else would we not have done more to save them?).
For some, the regality of the images may may not be to their taste. But for all its glorious grandeur, this book surely has warm humour at its heart; looking at the moggies I’ve known and loved and thinking of them thinking of themselves as the king of the jungle puts a big smile on my face.
It also matters to me (acknowledging my inevitable role as a gatekeeper of books) that this book for children has such rich painting in it; it’s not a technique you see in books so often these day. Many children’s book illustrations currently owe more to comic illustration styles, collage or digital manipulation than to painting and I think it is hugely important to share books with very different visual aesthetics with our children. We encourage them to read different styles of text, and we must surely enable them also to experience different types of book art too. My experience of sharing this book with my own children, and the children I volunteer with, is that they respond to these images with quiet awe and a sense of wonder.
There are many lovely picture books about the secret lives of cats, including When Martha’s Away by Bruce Ingman, It’s a Secret by John Burningham, Six dinner Sid by Inga Moore, Fred by Posy Simmonds, Slobcat by Paul Geraghty, Diabolical Mr Tiddles by Tom Mclaughlin and My Cat Just Sleeps by Joanne Partis and I am Cat is a thoughtful and moving addition to this collection, giving us a peep into the secret interior world of our feline friends. I’d love to see this glorious book shelved three times in libraries, bookshops and homes: Part paean, part non-fiction (the book closes with two pages devoted to factual information about each of the 10 wild cats highlighted by Morris, including information on their location, habitat and lifestyle), this stunning picture book could be found on the poetry shelves, the information shelves, or simply on the shelves providing sources of imagination.
Having luxuriated in I am Cat (for that is indeed what Morris’ paintings invite you to do), we decided to create a Big Cat Dream Catcher.
Inspired by Morris’ technique we used watercolours (and inks) to paint several big cats, thinking about the different sorts of markings they have on their coats.
We then cut them out and hung them off a frame which we’d woven with ribbons to look like a little like a Native American dream catcher.
Whilst painting and weaving we listened to (and danced to):
Other activities which would go well alongside reading this book include:
Thanks to buddies on Twitter for help jogging my memory about books featuring the secret lives of cats. @pollylwh @OlivaceousD @AnVrombaut @laughinglibby @blogshank @LaytonNeal @cguillain @sarahkimbo @childledchaos @bridgeanne @readitdaddy @elephantthai @aitcheldee @mstick68 @damyantipatel were all generous and helpful with their suggestions.
Today’s Picture Book Month theme is cats. Have you got a favourite cat book (about secret lives or otherwise)?
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book I’ve reviewed today from the publisher. I was under no obligation to review the books and I received no money for this post. This seems a particularly important disclosure today as it was with some disappointment that I read Jackie Morris is offering the chance to win a piece of her artwork in return for an Amazon review. None of the Amazon reviews (at time of writing this review) state whether they were written in order to enter the giveaway so there may be a lack of transparency in some of them. I accept that my blog is part of the word-of-mouth marketplace that the world of reviews has become now that we rely perhaps less on professional reviewers as our source of recommendations, but given this and this and the concomitant debate, I am committed to being transparent when it comes to my own reviews and the process by which a book finds a place on Playing by the book.