Pity the poor customers I have greeted, over the past few days, with an evangelical gleam in my eye. Watch, as they slowly back away from Crazy Book Lady, who babbles excitedly about a book so special, so important, so TRUE, that they MUST READ IT IMMEDIATELY.
Cringe, as Crazy Book Lady starts to read it aloud, to remove all choice from the situation.
‘They All Saw a Cat’, by Brendan Wenzel, is the latest object of my fealty, and I do not foresee any waning of my devotion.
How can a child’s picture book provoke such a response? At its simplest, it follows the steps of a cat as it moves through the world, seen in various forms through the eyes of all it encounters. A dog:
The illustrations are delightful, and funny, and engaging, and guaranteed to elicit giggles from little readers.
However, it is the book’s underlying message that is simply, yet powerfully delivered. To see the world through a fresh pair of eyes; to challenge ourselves to shift our perspective; to place ourselves in the shoes of others, and to understand what shapes their experience.
The cat is, simultaneously, a friend; movement; an object of mistrust; a smudge of colour; frightening; a predator; colour; a shadow; sound; and home.
All different. All true.
To understand this, and to accept it, is a critical step in developing empathy.
Teachers, you need this in your classrooms. Whether reading to nursery-age children, or helping students to unpack the wider concepts of PSHE, it is breathtakingly simple and infinitely complex. It engages readers of all ages, with stunning imagery in all media, from charcoal, to paint, to collage. It leads them to life’s bigger questions with gentle, repetitious prose. And, as the author himself comments, it affords “the opportunity to play in that space between what we can know and what we can only imagine”.
The conversations that will begin when this book ends will unlock its truly important words. If I could force this onto EVERY SINGLE PERSON, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Don’t make me.