Cat lovers will rejoice when sharing Garrison Keillor's Cat, You Better Come Home with their children. Whether you're a fan of his work on American Public Media's "A Prairie Home Companion," a philosophical resident of "Lake Wobegon," or you live under a rock and have never heard of Keillor, this children's picture book adaptation of a folk song will not fail to please. In addition to the lilting lyrical story, the paintings by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson are surreal and amazing. If Caldecott awards weren't based on such ALA pageantry I would not be surprised to see a medal pinned on the jacket cover. This marriage of unique illustration and unforgettable storytelling is so rare that I can't recommend the book with sufficient fervor.
The first principle of cat companionship is that diplomacy and affection will get you further with your pet than attempts at hardcore discipline. The narrator of the story immediately displays this: his cat Puff refuses to come inside when called and the power struggle that ensues has her walking off into the world to seek her own fortune. She doesn't return for a year and a half, and the adventures that she has meanwhile becoming a famous cat-food spokes-model living the life of luxury are balanced with scenes of a contrite pet owner, missing his companion and trying to get her back home. He cries out, "Come home, old Puff, come home to us / There's a lot of new benefits I'd like to discuss..."
In true Keillor fashion, the rhythm of the work is matched by amazing vocabulary and amusing verbosity. The only complaint I could make is that some of the word play is overly complex. The first time reading through I stumbled on a few sections, working out rhyming pronunciations of Chateaubriand or St. Nicholas...ridicholas. This problem was easily corrected by my son making me read the book about 50 times now. Practice makes perfect.
The three cats that share residency of our house certainly have something to do with my admiration of this work, but even a dog person would have to admit that it is nothing short of a masterpiece. There is a heartwarming philosophy to the story, summarized beautifully by Puff herself at the end: "You can seek your fortune, but nevertheless / Remember your name and your address / Because someday YOU'LL NEED TO COME HOME."
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