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Purrfect reads

art by Edward Gorey

Yesterday was National Cat Day! Founded in 2005 by pet expert and advocate Colleen Paige, National Cat Day aims to raise awareness of homeless cats as well as appreciate the companionship of feline friends.

Celebrate with one of these Horn Book Magazine–recommended books starring cats and cat-lovers — with a cat in your lap, of course.



Preschool picture books

In Laura Godwin’s One Moon, Two Cats, the moon prompts parallel wakeful behavior from a cat that lives in town and one that lives in the country. A panoramic scene almost brings the two together — but a clap of thunder sends them scurrying home to snooze at daybreak. Succinct verse and Yoko Tanaka’s acrylic art capture the felines’ serene and agile grace in this pleasing bedtime adventure. (Atheneum, 2011)

Truck-lover Leo only has eyes for big rigs; he wants nothing to do with Lola, the pet cat that Mama surprises him with. After some impressive rescue work (Bunny is trapped in a pretend burning building), Lola wins Leo over. In The Trucker, author/illustrator Barbara Samuels gets the details of common childhood experiences just right in both the colorful, fine-lined illustrations and the affectionate text. (Farrar, 2010)

Ginger and the kitten find their territory invaded by a freeloading faux-stray tabby. The jig is up when Ginger’s human attaches a note to the interloper’s collar asking if he has a home. The watercolor cats of Ginger and the Mystery Visitor, energized by a loose, doodly ink line, are expressive; charming, smug, hopeful, manipulative, indignant — author/illustrator Charlotte Voake gets all the moods in this cat-centric narrative. (Candlewick, 2010)


Primary picture books

The cat, mouse, and dog friends of Mini Grey’s Three by the Sea coexist harmoniously in their beach hut… until a manipulative fox plants seeds of discontent. Administered with Grey’s usual sly humor and light touch, the friends’ conundrum — a fairly sophisticated one — is resolved with a genuinely sweet and moving climax. The appealingly weathered-looking mixed-media art initially features double-page spreads, then splits into panels to mirror the growing divisiveness. (Knopf, 2011)

Soo Min, a little girl from Korea, is joining her new parents in the states in Christine McDonnell’s Goyangi Means Cat. The process is made easier with the help of the family cat (goyangi in Korean). When Goyangi slips out of the house, Soo Min fears that he’s gone forever. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher’s gentle collage illustrations contain patterns “selected to reflect the Eastern and Western worlds of Soo Min.” (Viking, 2011)

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat draws from Child’s own writing as the source for a baker’s dozen of apt quotes, this is as truthful an account as could be hoped for — while still being told from Julia Child’s cat’s point of view. Author Susanna Reich has a storyteller’s instinct for entrancing incident and a poet’s gift for sound and sensory detail. The roofs and markets of Paris and Julia’s busy kitchen all spring to life in a pleasing palette in Amy Bates’s art. (Abrams, 2012)

After moving into an apartment building, a cat misses the family’s former abode in Windows with Birds by Karen Ritz. Realistic illustrations providing close-up views accompany the cat’s narrative and show its owner, a boy, trying unsuccessfully to coax his pet out from under the bed. The final pages acknowledge the truth about a new household — that some things are different while some are the same, or even better. (Boyds Mills, 2010)

A cat narrates the story of his adoption from a shelter and his new life in Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw. The animal’s fear, pride, and gradual trust come across clearly in Wardlaw’s poems. Illustrator Eugene Yelchin’s graphite and gouache pictures match the poems’ sensitivity and humor, with the cat’s wariness giving way over time to an enjoyment of his new environment. (Holt, 2011)

Phyllis Root’s Scrawny Cat tells the story of a once-loved stray cat who takes refuge in a moored dinghy. It breaks free, and he’s blown over the sea to an island home owned by Emma, a lonely former sailor. Root paces her story expertly, lingering for pathos and subtly repeating sounds. In expansive gouache illustrations, Alison Friend represents the cat’s affecting emotions with verve and Emma herself in welcoming curves. (Candlewick, 2011)

In David Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles!, the eponymous cat disdains all the playthings he’s offered — until he spies a small spaceship and, entranced, toys with it for a page of dramatically paced frames. A page turn reveals tiny, green-skinned creatures within. They flee to the space under a radiator, which harbors a thriving insect civilization complete with wall paintings of ants and ladybugs confronting fearsome cats. Friendship ensues, food and technology are shared, repairs are made, and the cat is foiled with a heroic escape engineered by insects and green folk working together. (Clarion, 2013)


Intermediate fiction

In The Cats of Roxville Station by Jean Craighead George, abandoned feline Rachet adapts to the feral cats of Roxville Station — and cautiously bonds with Mike, an orphan boy. After clawing her way to top-cat rank at the station, Rachet becomes Mike’s “outside pet.” Meanwhile, in George’s practiced manner, the other cats go their various ways, all easily followed in illustrator Tom Pohrt’s bird’s-eye view of the town and seen close-up in his drawings. (Dutton, 2009)

Mavis Jukes’s Smoke begins with Colton, his mom, and his beloved Maine coon cat, Smoke, moving from Idaho to California. Smoke disappears, and Colton ends up barricaded in a mountain cabin with (is it?) a cougar outside. Jukes is a risk-taking writer, and this novel’s action and adventure coexist well with an introspective tone, lots of exposition, unusual settings, and uniquely direct characterizations. (Farrar, 2009)

In The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook, Oona’s father has died, and now her cat Zook is sick. To comfort her little brother, Oona comes up with stories about Zook’s previous lives. Joanne Rocklin intertwines her characters so smartly that the book’s many coincidences and serendipitous events feel organic to the story. The ending — bittersweet, inevitable, and true — offers much-needed catharsis for the family and for anyone who has ever loved a pet. (Abrams/Amulet, 2012)


Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. What a great list! I must now look these up.

    On the more YA end, last year we published a comedy send-up of cats, Chicago, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley, CAT GIRL’S DAY OFF, about a girl who can talk to cats who must rescue a celebrity blogger with the help of a bunch of snarky cats. I’m biased, of course, but it is hilarious.

  2. I also love Kate Banks and Lauren Castillo’s City Cat (but then again, I’m kind of obsessed with Lauren Castillo right now). My favorite cat chapter book (it’s an oldie) is Pinky Pie, by Eleanor Estes. Now that’s a cat with personality!

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