If Not for the Cat

( 1 )


A creature whispers:

If not for the cat,
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.

Who is this creature?
What does it like to eat?
Can you solve the riddle?

Seventeen haiku composed by master poet Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by renowned artist Ted Rand ask you to ...

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A creature whispers:

If not for the cat,
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.

Who is this creature?
What does it like to eat?
Can you solve the riddle?

Seventeen haiku composed by master poet Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by renowned artist Ted Rand ask you to think about seventeen favorite residents of the animal kingdom in a new way. On these glorious and colorful pages you will meet a mouse, a skunk, a beaver, a hummingbird, ants, bald eagles, jellyfish, and many others. Who is who? The answer is right in front of you. But how can you tell? Think and wonder and look and puzzle it out!

Haiku-like poems describe a variety of animals.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At once elegant and droll, this fine collaboration spotlights various animals through 17 haiku, each set against a stunning full-spread, close-range illustration of the featured creature in its natural habitat. Author and artist tip their hats to Eastern traditions with the poetic form and with mix-media compositions that echo Chinese silkscreen. The book takes its title from the first line of the inaugural poem ("If not for the cat,/ And the scarcity of cheese,/ I could be content"), and Rand's (Here Are My Hands) wry image of a mouse looking out from the darkness that dominates the spread, safe behind the wall, to the whiskered snout of a cat perched by the mouse hole, provides ideal accompaniment. By contrast, the brilliantly lit scene that follows highlights a glorious tangle of nasturtiums visited by a hummingbird. Prelutsky's (Scranimals) versatile verse adopts a pleasing range of first-person voices. Against a symphony of blues, the words of the jellyfish emulate its motion as it seems to swim across the spread ("Boneless, translucent,/ We undulate, undulate,/ Gelatinously"). A moth asks ponderously, "How foolish I am./ Why am I drawn to the flame/ Which extinguishes?"; Rand visually links the color of the moth with the halo around the candle, making its attraction seem inevitable. Though it's not difficult to identify the critters (specified on the final page), younger children especially will have fun naming each species. Deceptive in their simplicity, these haiku will send aspiring wordsmiths off to try their own. Ages 3-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This is a book of haiku poems written by the popular children's poet, Jack Prelutsky. Haiku is an ancient Japanese poetry form using only seventeen syllables arranged in three lines of text. Haikus are usually nature-related, and poems in this collection comply by using such creatures as jellyfish, elephants, and skunks as the subjects of each poem. Some of the poems are quite simple. The haiku about the elephant, for example, reads: "We are wrinkled hulks; With astonishing noses; Our ears block the sun." Others demand more complex thought, such as the haiku about the jellyfish which reads: "Boneless, translucent; We undulate, undulate; Gelatinously." All of the poems, though, display a command of the language expected of Prelutsky. Ted Rand's illustrations are as diverse as the poems. Sometimes his pictures are forthright and realistic as when his elephant's ear really does block out the sun. At other times, his paintings are more impressionistic as when an undulating blue jellyfish floats placidly across the page. Both the poetry and the illustrations show the work of master artists and combine to make a lovely and thought-provoking book. While this book is a picture book, the language of much of it, with words like gelatinously, raucously, and nasturtium, will probably be beyond the normal picture-book set. However, this is one of those relatively rare picture books that is appropriate for older students. Teachers wishing to introduce poetry, especially haiku, to their middle and upper grade students will find this book to be a gem. 2004, Greenwillow Books, Ages 8 up.
—Sheryl O'Sullivan
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4-Each of the 17 haiku in this collection explores the essence of an animal, the words forming a sort of riddle answered in Rand's accompanying double-page illustration. The title poem, "If not for the cat/And the scarcity of cheese,/I could be content," features a mouse looking at a bewhiskered nose through a hole; a jellyfish drifts across a spread in "Boneless, translucent,/We undulate, undulate,/Gelatinously." Prelutsky shows his command of word choice through a minimalist form that is perfectly matched by Rand's control of his mixed-media artwork to create a wonderful celebration of the art of haiku. This book, like George Shannon's Spring (Greenwillow, 1996) and Dawnine Spivak's Grass Sandals (Atheneum, 1997), shows the continuity and vitality of this ancient poetic form.-Kathleen Whalin, York Public Library, ME Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Prelutsky changes pace and adopts a philosophical tone in a set of animal riddles framed as first-person haiku: "Gaudily feathered, / With nothing at all to say, / I can't stop talking." Answers are provided at the end, but they're superfluous, as Rand fills each spread with gorgeous inked-and-brushed figures; the parrot's plumage is more iridescent than "gaudy," a skunk's white stripes and tail explode like fireworks against a solidly black background, a mouse peers anxiously through its dimly lit hole, inches away from a feline nose. "If not for the cat, / And the scarcity of cheese, / I could be content." As the solutions are there on the page, this works best if children don't see the picture until they've heard the riddle, and had a chance to guess who's posing it. But even in this uncharacteristic form, Prelutsky's poetry is as engaging as ever, Rand has outdone himself, and the collaboration is likely to become as much of a storytime favorite as Beatrice Schenk De Regniers's classic It Does Not Say Meow (1972). (Picture book/poetry. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060596774
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/21/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 477,178
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Prelutsky

Jack Prelutsky is the best-selling author of more than fifty books of poetry, including The New Kid on the Block, illustrated by James Stevenson, and Stardines Swim High Across the Sky, illustrated by Carin Berger. Jack Prelutsky lives in Washington State.

Ted Rand, illustrator of Mailing May and Don't Forget.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 1 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 30, 2009

    I love this book!

    We got this as a library book first and I had to own it. My 4yr old knows lots of animals and she can name all 17 in this book. The illustrations are wonderful, we all have a favorite. The poems do not talk down to kids; there are plenty of big words but this is a book we enjoy together.

    A great way to expose a child to new form of expression. Maybe we'll be inspired to try Haiku too!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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