Lasting Laughter

It’s amazing how early humor comes into a child’s understanding. This weekend’s Skype session found silly Catie returned from a birthday party and ready to celebrate her Daddy’s birthday. She first managed to wend her way through two packed lines of “Happy Birthday G’ma and Grandpa,” (though it wasn’t close to either of our birthdays) and when her daddy urged her to “sing something from Frozen,” she sang “Happy Birthday Dear Frozen!” Sugar+Birthday Fever=A direct path to silly.

This week I’m sending a completely silly book to tickle her already-sensitive funny bone, one of Mo Willems’ Cat the Cat series.

Mo Willems is already a Catie-approved author, but I’d never seen this series until recently and I’m guessing it will be a humor hit. I am continually astounded that every single book he’s written succeeds in terms of developmental aptness, patterning, and quirky humor. Who is That, Cat the Cat? (HarperCollins, ages 2-5) has a refrain, “Who is that, Cat the Cat?” repeated on every page by an unseen narrator. Each time, as the page turns, a full page spread shows perky Cat the Cat introducing a recognizable animal. “It’s Mouse the Mouse!” she declares, for example. Even in a simple board book, there is Willems’ perfect blend of simplicity in word and picture. The sight of the t-shirted mouse has Cat the Cat throwing up her arms in an enthusiastic greeting that hints at her joy at their friendship. And as if Willems doesn’t want to miss any opportunity for humor, each of Cat’s friends responds with a different goofy greeting.

Willems’ wouldn’t be Willems without his comedic twist. Nearing the last page, Cat the Cat’s tail flairs as she encounters a towering four armed alien who confounds her with its “Blarggie! Blarggie!” After a thoughtful moment, Cat the Cat, proclaims, “It’s a new friend!”

Anyone who knows Willems’, child or adult, will search for his iconic pigeon. And they will find it cleverly hidden in this book.

This week I completed an article for NoveList on emerging readers and I had to appreciate another quality of this book that had me flashing back and forward at the same time. My mentor and children’s book expert, Jody Fickes Shapiro, once labeled books like this “now and later books.” Her meaning? The books toddlers listen to will someday become books they can turn to when, later, a simply-worded story facilitates early reading. This Willems’ series is unique because the humor will please both.

My flashing forward was a quick realization that Catie’s new brother will probably grow into that appreciative toddler humor nearing the time she launches her read-aloud career. A toddler brother and an older near-reading sister who wants practice and an appreciative audience is a match made in heaven. Add Willems to the mix and you’ve got some kind of wacky nirvana.

By the way, the other book I read in this series, Who Flies, Cat the Cat? is just as much fun and there are are four more.

Mo Willems’ video about this series may give you a giggle : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3h2RpX7-FzM

One thought on “Lasting Laughter

  1. Thanks, Susie. I love this series already–and the idea of now and later books. I’ll pick this up for Lucien and maybe someday he’ll practice his reading on an as-yet-underway younger brother or sister. I wish my older sisters had practiced their reading on me. They were too busy pushing me away–or on a swing, at my mother’s request. We have film and my oldest sister looks furious, shoving me again and again into the air.

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