Review of the Day: What Will Fat Cat Sit On?
What Will Fat Cat Sit On?
By Jan Thomas
On shelves now
Every reviewer I know of lives by a set of self-imposed rules and regulations regarding the books they choose to willingly review of their own free will. My rules include the following stipulation: "The Reviewer will make a sincere effort to review any title that causes her to do a dramatic spit-take after reading the first page of a book. This may also apply after the far rarer event of snorting milk out the nose." "What Will Fat Cat Sit On?" falls squarely into the latter category. I have not enjoyed a picture book this much since… well, I suppose since the last Mo Willems title hit bookstore shelves. Author/illustrator Jan Thomas certainly hits it out of the park with this funny, not to say supremely goofy, picture book title.
Systematically, a narrator asks a couple questions. For example: Will Fat Cat sit on the cow? As we’re asked this, a gleeful feline gives a mildly panicked cow the eye. The cow, however, is assured that the Fat Cat will not sit on him (response: "Yee-haw!"). So will the Fat Cat sit on the chicken instead? In a bout of panic the chicken tries to distract us and suggest the pig. Fortunately neither will be sat on today (though if I were the pig I’d be harboring some pretty nasty thoughts towards that two-timing fowl). Other animals are threatened with the Cat’s rump, until a mouse brings up the loony idea of the cat maybe trying a big comfy chair. Problem solved, all the animals give a sigh of relief. That is, until the narrator asks, "NOW, what will Fat Cat . . . have for LUNCH?" Exit cast of characters in a blind panic, stage left.
The plot may not sound like much on the outset, but this book is a born readaloud. Here are the first four pages, "Will Fat Cat sit on . . . the COW? Moo? NO! Fat Cat will not sit on the COW! Yee-haw!" Okay, now put the right amount of emphasis on each one of those words and then couple that with the pictures. If done correctly, this is hilarious. Nor does it hurt matters any that the pictures have a kind of thick-lined, madcap giddiness to them. It’s Fat Cat’s name in the title, and there’s a reason for that. Whenever the book speculates on exactly which animal Fat Cat might plant his fanny on, the picture of our hero(?) just cracks me up. Take a look at the cover and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. There he is, grinning wildly, an insane glint in his furry little eyes as he anticipates squashing someone beneath his magnificently huge posterior. The fact that cows and pigs are desperately afraid of Fat Cat is funny in and of itself, and you just have to love the book’s timing.
I don’t normally do this, but check out the Library of Congress plot summary placed on the publication page of this book. "A group of animals is terrified at the prospect of being sat upon by the imposing Fat Cat, until the mouse comes up with a solution that satisfies everyone." One day I am going to meet the person who writes these LIC summaries and I will discover the creator of this particular sentence so that I may cover them in love and kisses. Synthesizing a picture book, any picture book, into a single sentence is a difficult matter for most people, and this one really does a great job of displaying both the humor and the truly bizarre nature of this book.
Someone somewhere is going to tell you that Jan Thomas is the poor man’s Mo Willems. Do not listen to the person who informs you of this fact. It is easy to glace at FAT CAT and make gross accusations of this sort. And I might concede that Harcourt would have been more reluctant to public "Fat Cat" had "Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" not been the nationwide hit it turned into. I, however, trust that you are the kind of person who can tell a good book from a knock-off. What Jan Thomas has done here is create a book that upsets your expectations right from the start. My husband complained after reading the title that it would make sense if the chicken were threatened with premature sitting before the cow. I disagree. The fact that the larger animal freaks out over the threat of the cat is a much funnier opening than if it were a smaller critter involved. Thomas has an ear and an eye for visual comedy that is as funny to four-year-olds as it is to forty-year-olds. No small feat, I assure you.
Fat cats tend to make for good children’s books. "The Fat Cat Sat on the Mat" by Nurit Karlin is a definite example of this, but it’s hardly alone. Consider too "Fat Cat: A Danish Folktale" by Margaret Read MacDonald, "Drat That Fat Cat!" by Pat Thomson, or perhaps the equally manic/glassy eyed kitty in "Farmer Smart’s Fat Cat" by James Sage. With this crew of great books available, "What Will Fat Cat Sit On?" is in good company. Arguably the best of the overweight kitty genre, this is a crowd pleaser and bound to be a children’s librarian’s new best friend. Funny furry stuff.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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