inside cat

Wednesday, September 29, 2021 | | 0 comments

Can you resist a picture book with a hilarious (and beautifully designed) cover? I certainly can’t. All I had to see were the titular cat’s enormous eyes and the title (Inside Cat), and I was hooked. Brendan Wenzel’s latest picture book is ART – and it’s funny, charming, original, and thought-provoking too!

inside cat by brendan wenzel cover
From the endlessly inventive Caldecott Honor author/illustrator of
They All Saw a Cat comes a picture book that is playful, perceptive, and full of delights. Inside Cat is just that: an inside cat. But while the cat's life is bound by the walls of an unusual house, it's far from dull. As the cat wanders, wonders, stares, and snacks, roaming from room to room and place to place, both cat and reader discover worlds and sensations beyond what's right in front of them. And just when Inside Cat is sure it knows everything, another surprise awaits! Fresh, funny, and wise, Inside Cat is a feast for the eyes and the imagination.

Inside Cat views the world from, well, inside. It wonders and wanders all day long, looking out of windows of all kinds, at all sorts of things. The world of inside is pale and colorless – and in contrast, outside is vibrant, interesting, and stranger than strange. Inside Cat might think it knows everything there is to know from observing the world, but of course human readers know that the outside is wild, and distance changes your view of everything. In this witty and highly detailed picture book, author-illustrator Wenzel will charm readers of all ages with humor, language, and of course, art.


As an avid reader (since always), and now as an English teacher, I’m interested in the ways that we play with language and storytelling in primarily visual mediums like graphic novels and picture books. Wenzel has written a text that would read as a charming poem independent of the illustrations. Words rhyme throughout, and Wenzel employs alliteration, repetition, and many action verbs. There’s also a strong thread of humor, in both the look of the book (Inside Cat’s googly eyes are too much!), and in the ways that Inside Cat identifies elements of the world, both inside and out. Many of the jokes are not explicit in the text, but illustrated (literally!) in the ways that Inside Cat thinks, due to its limited frame of reference and point of view.


Wenzel displays true skill in navigating the delicate balancing act between writing a fast-paced story that appeals to impatient children, and creating a book that those same children will want to return to over and over again, and find new stories and details in each time. Wenzel accomplishes this in part by filling more white space with each subsequent page spread. While Wenzel’s economical use of text could help to pick up the reading pace, there’s so much to see on each page that it’s tough to make this a truly quick read. And really, why rush something so fun and lovely?


The art: let’s talk about it. Wenzel uses a variety of mediums, both physical and virtual, and the only thing I have to say about all of them is that they blend so well that this book feels all of a piece. The outdoors is depicted in full color, and indoors and Inside Cat’s imaginings are pastel-light outlines on a white background. There’s lots of detail, but much of it can be pushed to the background to consider on a 2nd, or 5th, or 500th re-read. Inside Cat’s eyes are the feature that stand out the most, echoing the importance of the visual to the cat’s experience and knowledge. I could go on… but by this point I hope you’ve realized you should go on and buy or borrow it yourself to enjoy what is truly a fun time.


In all, Inside Cat is both an exploration and a thought- and story-starter. It will have young readers and adults alike creating new adventures for Inside Cat, and wondering, wandering, gazing, and gaping at the world in a whole new way.


Recommended for: small children with big imaginations (little ones who liked Not A Box and other books that foster creative thinking will get a kick out of this!), fans of books with a twist at the end, and anyone who appreciates detailed illustrations, humor, and text working in harmony to create exceptional picture books. 


Inside Cat will be available from Chronicle Books on October 12, 2021.

Fine print: I received an e-ARC from the publisher for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

marshmallow & jordan

Now that I’m a teacher, it’s much harder to keep track of all of the awesome books releasing each week. I don’t have the attention span (or time) I used to have to track what’s going on in the book world! Luckily, the folks at Macmillan and First Second do a great job of getting the word out about their books to bloggers, librarians, and educators. And when I heard about Alina Chau’s middle grade graphic novel Marshmallow & Jordan, I perked right up. A mysterious white elephant, a story set in Indonesia, playing sports with a disability, and water polo (which I played myself!) all rolled into one story??! Sign me up. And the result, you’ll be glad to hear, is enchanting.

Jordan's days as star player for her school's basketball team ended when an accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. Now, she's still the team captain, but her competition days seem to be behind her...until an encounter with a mysterious elephant, who she names Marshmallow, helps Jordan discover a brand new sport.

Will water polo be the way for Jordan to continue her athletic dreams--or will it just come between Jordan and her best friends on the basketball team? And with the big tournament right around the corner, what secret is Marshmallow hiding?

Jordan, a former basketball star growing up in Indonesia, is still on her school’s team even after an accident left her paraplegic. However, Jordan misses playing in games – she’s not allowed to compete in a wheelchair, even though she can still make amazing shots. Enter Marshmallow, a mysterious white baby elephant who needs Jordan’s help and friendship. With Marshmallow’s help, Jordan learns how to play water polo, joins the water polo team, and works for her chance to compete again. Two mysteries remain: who, or what, is Marshmallow? And will Jordan’s new team get to compete next year at nationals?


Oh my goodness, this is SUCH a cute book! It’s solidly middle grade, with adorable art, bittersweet moments of loss and could-have-been futures balanced by a solid here-and-now main character, and a fantastic setting and cultural milieu. Jordan’s family, including her parents and her nenek (grandmother) are a welcome change from many YA and middle grade books – they’re alive! and present in Jordan’s life. Their banter and support are refreshing to read, and help the reader understand how Jordan has become who she is. Jordan also has an amazing friend group through her basketball team, and throughout the book she gets to know girls on the water polo team as well. Overall, Chau’s storytelling is fairly simple, but the setting, amazing network behind Jordan, the mystery and cuteness (kawaii!) of Marshmallow, and the gorgeous artwork raise the book a level above.


If there is a weakness in this book, it is that there’s not quite enough of it – but isn’t that always the way? I was having such a good time with Jordan and her crew that I wanted to keep reading. Marshmallow’s fantastical origins could have been explored a little more? But really, what you get as a reader is a sweet, good-hearted story with just a bit of angst to carry you through. And it is a wonderful read for those reasons!


Let’s talk a bit about the art. When I first saw it I thought refined watercolors, vibrant colors, attention to cultural setting and details (especially food and flowers!), and an elephant that is too cute to be real – and I was right on that point! Chau’s art was sketched and cleaned up in Photoshop, watercolors painted by hand, and then composites were detailed in Photoshop, according to the back matter. Chau captures movement well, including illustrating plays in both basketball and water polo, which is tough! Her background in the film and game industries no doubt helped develop that skill, and she brings it and the storytelling to the page with grace.


In all, Marshmallow & Jordan is a heartwarming, thoroughly middle school tale of overcoming obstacles, making (and keeping!) friends, and familial love. The dash of fantasy at the end just adds to the delightful whole.


Recommended for: fans of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, and Raina Telgemeier’s books, anyone interested in sports depicted in graphic novels, and readers ages 8+ looking for wholesome, pure-hearted heroines and reads!


 Marshmallow & Jordan will be available from First Second on October 26, 2021.


Fine print: I received an advanced e-ARC for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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