Take a second look, laugh at Rosen's 'Purr'

May 10, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Some books deserve to be looked at more than once. One of them is "Purr...Children's Book Illustrators Brag About Their Cats" edited by Michael Rosen.

This wonderful picture book was published by Harcourt Brace in 1996 and sells for $18. It is part of a series by Rosen that has subsequently included children's book illustrators writing about dogs, favorite foods and gardens.

His most recent book is "Down to Earth" (Harcourt Brace, 1998, $18), which is a collection of garden secrets, garden stories and garden projects offered by 41 children's book authors and illustrators. Proceeds from all the books in the series go to various charitable organizations.

Maryjo Koch writes about and draws foxgloves for her entry in "Down to Earth":

"When I was a child, my mother had the most beautiful garden," Koch writes. "She always grew foxgloves. I would wander through her garden and look for fallen rose pink flowers with purple freckles. I would then place one on each fingertip: my 'foxy' gloves. Little did I know that the foxglove is highly poisonous. It is also a valuable medicinal plant that helps thousands of people who have heart problems lead normal lives. Its seed yields the drug digitalis. My mother took digitalis for 50 years. When I look at foxgloves, I thank them for the years they gave my mother."

The garden book is sweet, but I have to return to my first love, Rosen's cat book. Both the illustrations and the stories are wonderfully whimsical. Take this one, for instance, by Tony Ross:

"Just after World War II, my favorite uncle, Barry, lived in beautiful, furnitureless flat in London. The lights were on again, but food was scarce. Barry was given a kitten, a pretty white thing named Snowy. I was visiting one day and we put Snowy out onto the balcony to play.

"Suddenly, the tiny kitten backed into the room, dragging a huge steak. After a small struggle, Barry won the steak and cleaned it under the tap. Delicious! But where had the steak come from? The balcony was four floors above the street and there were no others within a cat's jump.

"'Doesn't do to inquire," said Barry. 'The Lord will always provide.'

"Not so, because although Lord Snowy was put out on the balcony every day for a month, the cheated aristocrat provided no more steak."

Diane Stanley provides another favorite about "A Damsel in Distress":

"Early one Saturday morning my daughter whispered into my ear, 'Mom, there's a cat having kittens in our laundry room.' That woke me up! She had gone out for a walk and the cat had just 'followed her home.'

"Tamara is allergic to cats, but what did that matter when faced with a damsel in distress? So mama kitty and her five babies got a cozy nest, a kitty feast, and far too much attention.

"About a week later the books on my bookshelf began to call out to me. They said: 'Mew.' I pulled the loudest book off the shelf and there behind it sat two kittens. As I stood there amazed, along came mama kitty with a third baby in her mouth. She wanted to raise her family with a little privacy, please!

"Or maybe like a wise mother she just thought an early exposure to books would be good for them."

Cartoonist Roz Chast drew six color panels illustrating the following tale:

"I used to have a cat who was crazy about Super Balls, those little balls that bounce really, really high. I'd throw about 10 at a time and watch her go into a frenzy chasing and retrieving them.

"Over time, however, those balls would disappear, one by one. Laziness kept me from doing a real thorough search. I'd just go out and buy some more. One day I was in a thrifty, industrious mood. I decided to hunt for those lost Super Balls. It was a one-room apartment so it wasn't as if there were limitless hiding places.

"I tore the place apart, with no luck. Finally I decided that they had all vanished into the infamous Lost Cat Toy dimension, and gave up.

"About a year later, while packing to move, I happened to lift up an obscure, wedged-in section of carpet and hit pay dirt: 42 balls."

I have one complaint about "Purr..." It's too short. Even though Rosen included stories and drawings from 43 contributors, it should have been twice as long. Here's hoping for a second edition. I hope it comes soon.

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