Wanda Gág's Millions of Cats
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A children's book about cats...millions of them!
Named by School Library Journal as one of the "One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century" (the previous century), Millions of Cats is a treasure. It is also one of the few picture books to win a Newbery Honor, and it is reckoned by some to be the oldest American picture book still in print!
It's a simple tale. The very old woman's husband sets out in search of the perfect cat for his wife. Then he comes across a hill "which was quite covered in cats."
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.
This poses a bit of a dilemma. The old man wants the prettiest cat for his wife, but the more he looks the harder it is to decide which is the prettiest.
So he invites them all to return home with him. Along the way they drain a pond and denude a hillside. Millions of cats can do a fair amount of ecological damage!
The very old woman is, naturally, a bit overwhelmed. She resolves to let the cats themselves decide which is the prettiest and therefore should stay with the old couple.
But it turns out that asking a bunch of cats which is the prettiest only leads to disagreement among the vain creatures. The old couple retreats into their house when quite the argument ensues.
When they re-emerge, not a single cat is in evidence. It seems they all ate each other!
But there, in the tall grass, they spot one scraggly, scrawny, frightened little kitten. When they ask him how he survived, he explains that he was the only one who didn't claim to be the prettiest...so all the other cats left him out of the fight!
And therein lies Wanda Gág's lesson for us all: vanity will get you nowhere...except ingested. Beauty is only skin-deep. The little kitten, of course, grows up to be the prettiest cat of all...though presumably if he knows that, he's learned to keep it to himself!
One other neat thing about Millions of Cats: it's in black and white! That means you can Xerox off copies and make it a coloring (or watercoloring) book too.
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