Top critical review
Mild nausea for a day
Reviewed in the United States on July 30, 2004
Ugh. I'll clarify something right here and now. I love reviewing picture books for Amazon.com. Normally this is a highly enjoyable thing to do and it gives me a great amount of joy. Unfortunately, I've done it long enough that I've come to the undeniable realization that if I EVER give a negative review to a book that some adult adored as a child (be it the racist "They Were Strong and Good" by Robert Lawson or the treacly "Betsy Tacy" books by Maud Hart Lovelace) I'm slowly but surely pummeled with negative votes. This is usually because adults have an incredibly difficult time separating themselves from the books they loved when they were kids, no matter how poorly the book was made. I think you can see where I'm going with this. I came to pick up "Kitten For a Day" by Ezra Jack Keats (undeniably one of the most influential picture book artists in the United States) because it appeared on the New York Public Library's Summer 2004 reading list for early readers. I opened it up, read it once, read it twice, read it (with incredible reluctance) thrice and came to a horrid conclusion. Oh this book is bad. It's just...awful. If you're an adult that grew up with this book and you want to introduce it to your children, go right ahead. That's your prerogative and far be it from me or anyone else to stop you. But if you just heard about this book through the grapevine and you want to know a little more about it, let me clarify right now that this story is not good. It is not good at all.
The plot is a familiar one. A group of kittens are playing together when an adorably puppy joins them. After climbing into a bowl with them one of the kitties asks, "Are you a kitten?" The puppy replies, "Uh huh - I think so". That apparently satisfies the kittens and the group, with puppy in tow, go about a set of catlike adventures. They lap up milk (the puppy makes a mess). They meow (the puppy tries but it ends up as "meee...rrruff!"). They jump from chair to chair (the puppy takes a tumble). They even chase a mouse (the puppy bumping its head and the mouse apologizing to the pup). Finally the pup's mom arrives and waving goodbye to his friends the puppy suggests that next time they all try to be dogs. The end.
You read through this description and you think, "There's nothing inherently bad about this story". I agree. There's nothing inherantly good about it either, though. The problem is that it's just so doggone (ho ho!) bland. Author/illustrator Ezra Jack Keats is best known for his groundbreaking/breathtaking/award making "Snowy Day". I know "Snowy Day", ladies and gentlemen. "Snowy Day" is one of my favorite books. And this, sir, is no "Snowy Day". In that book the illustrations were artful cutouts and colors. The art in this book is drawn and, sad to say, drawn badly. The pictures are poorly painted and done in a kind of slapdash manner (especially that last shot of the puppy being taken home by its mom). The scant words in the story convey the plot but they're bereft of wit or whimsy. The greatest crime in this story is that compared to the great picture books made after (and even before) its publication in 1974 it doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.
If you're looking for a fabulous picture book about a little dog that pretends to be a cat for a while, I highly recommend you seek out "Widget" by Lyn Rossiter McFarland. If you want a picture book that tells a great story through visual images rather than words, try the Caldecott Award winning "Tuesday" by Dave Wiesner. This book has sentimental value for a lot of people, but it just isn't in the same league as a lot of really great picture books out there today. Life's too short to waste it on reading tepid picture books to your kids. Forgo the insipid pleasures of "Kitten For a Day".