Friday, April 28, 2017

Where's Kitty? Spot, The Cat by Henry Cole

It's a lazy weekend afternoon, and a young boy is sprawled on the couch with his book, while his cat, white with one large black spot on his side, is stretched out on the back of the sofa. But the cat is alert, switching his tail at a bird, sitting on a potted flower on the sill of the open window.

Suddenly the bird flies, and unbeknownst to his young owner, the cat leaps after him, onto the window sill.

Outside, the cat cannily makes its way down the branches of an tall, ornamental tree planted on the balcony below and from there leaps from balcony to the iron staircase balustrade and strolls across the busy street below.

Inside, the boy stirs and looks around for his cat on the sofa back. He peers out the window, he checks the kitchen, where the bowl, monogrammed SPOT, sits empty. Alarmed, the boy prints out some LOST CAT posters and dashes down to the street to post his signs hopefully. But he is too late to spot Spot the cat, who is down the next block, crossing the boat canal on yet another railing.

The cat dashes across a grassy park where kites of all kinds are in full flight, with the boy not too far behind. Outside the huge museum (where a sign "CATS" proclaims an exhibit inside) the cat sits to watch a child. But where's Spot? The boy quickly passes out his posters as he passes the fire station, while at the end of the block, a spotted dog jerks at his leash and the cat accelerates from stroll to full speed flight.

In the vast domed lobby of a railroad station, the cat seems to disappear in the milling throng of passengers pulling luggage. Wait! Is that Spot, heading out one exit?

In a tour de force execution of the Where's Waldo? premise, noted artist Henry Cole's Spot, the Cat (Little Simon, 2016) even plays with his title, as the book becomes a game of Spot the Cat, in which each page becomes a challenge to locate the wandering cat. Taking the place of text, Cole's illustrations are remarkable, done in meticulous black and white pen-and-ink drawings in which crosshatching and enticing cityscape detail camouflage each stage of the jaunty feline's outdoor adventure. Cole's busy urban scenes bustle with the almost audible sounds of honking horns, barking dogs, and rumbling traffic.

All ends well, of course, with the homing kitty beating the mournful boy back home, where both of them share a much-needed cuddle and nap on that sofa. And for those sharp-eyed readers who relish a visual puzzle, it's a good Saturday afternoon adventure for all. As Kirkus Reviews says, "Finding the feline is tricky for readers, too, as the artist inserts many red herrings. When child and cat finally reunite, the sweet relief feels immediate and intimate--and all that looking so very much worth it."

And for those kids who dote on the "The Cat Came Back" theme, this one pairs well with Kate Banks' City Cat (see review here).

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