Let’s go on an ABC journey with Patrick McDonnell in The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned his ABC’s (the Hard Way).
Whew! A mouthful, this one’s title is, but its length makes up for the wordlessness of its pages. In case you’re unaware, you should know that Patrick McDonnell is the celebrated comic strip artist of Mutts. This knowledge is not a requirement for enjoying the book, but I think it’s helpful to know a little about the creator’s past work before we begin.
The premise of the book is rather clever and I very much like its execution, as do my children. When I read it aloud, they shout out the item for which each letter stands. Very interactive. Illustrations are spare and done in pen and ink, pencil, and watercolor. Much in Patrick McDonnell’s signature style, the lines show all the expressive details you need. Make sure you take a peek under the jacket … the case illustrations are different!
Essentially — a little red cat, who runs around on two feet (an important point, I feel), leaves the house where he has been so comfortably sleeping and steps into the colorful world beckoning him through his open front door. (Why am I saying “he?” Was it designated so somewhere in the book? I don’t think so…I’ll change that.)
The first thing Little Red Cat comes across is…an Alligator. The reader sees “Aa” on the page. (Making sense yet?) Next page, Little Red Cat meets a Bear whilst a “Bb” resides clearly on the page. And so Cat goes, through the book and through the alphabet, while an eventual crew of characters amasses as they all follow the leader. Sometimes letters are representative of actions rather than beings, as in the fire that emanates from Dragon’s mouth for “Ff.”
The whole thing wouldn’t be that laudable, except that it’s really well done — funny, clever, and easily enjoyed many times over. I consider it a Must Have Alphabet Book for any preschool or kindergarten-aged child. At the end of the book, the reader will find the complete list of words used to stand for each letter. It’s kind of like the answer key at the back of the book. Readers can check and see if their interpretation of the illustration matched what the illustrator intended.
Read aloud this book, of course. But also, have your children or students or young acquaintances on the street come up with a word for each letter of the alphabet themselves, and then illustrate their own story based on those words. This activity could also serve as a great writing exercise for the writers among us, or the high school English class just getting ready to start their first creative writing assignment.
If The Little Red Cat is your first introduction to Patrick McDonnell, it is worth your time to visit some of his previously published children’s books. Here’s some of them:
Also, check out your local newspaper’s comics section and there you will likely find Mutts, which was started in 1994 and now appears in over 700 newspapers in 20 countries worldwide. His children’s book career started in 2005, and it seems to be a perfect fit. He joins a few other comic strip artists turned children’s book creators, such as Dr. Seuss and Crockett Johnson. Perhaps we’d even include Charles Schultz in that category.
The Gift of Nothing was Mr. McDonnell’s first children’s book and the message of that story resonates with a lot of us, I think — that the perfect gift is that of a friend or loved one’s time and attention. This book has resulted in The Gift of Nothing Day, which is meant to be spent with those you care about. Great idea!
Patrick was born and raised and now lives in New Jersey and is dedicated to animals, as evidenced through his Mutts characters cat (Mooch) and dog (Earl). What’s more, he sits on the Board of Directors for the Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals.
Mr. McDonnell is currently working with 20th Century Fox Animation to make Mutts into an animated movie! The animation studio involved is Blue Sky Studios, the same folks who brought us Ferdinand and Ice Age!
I’m looking forward to seeing more children’s books from the busy Patrick McDonnell, and hope he continues to be recognized for his creativity, ingenuity, and dedication to the well-being of our animals. He certainly receives a Bravo! from me.
The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way)
Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell; Published by Little, Brown and Company; © 2017, 48 pages, ISBN 9780316502467
In this nearly wordless alphabet book, a little red cat runs away and gets caught up in a wild chase that goes everywhere from A to Z and back home again.