I honestly cannot remember a time when I did not love to read. Books have been my dearest of companions since I was a child. I have always loved stories and the characters that inhabit them, but it wasn't until I was in school that I really understood the power of words. One of my teachers read Martin Luther King's I have a Dream speech to us and I was bowled over by it. Today's poetry book explores the idea that words and the ideas they impart can really change a person. In this case a boy learns to change his mind about something, and he also starts to understand that words, either spoke or read, can build connections between people.
Hate that cat
Hate that cat
For ages 8 to 12
HarperCollins, 2008, 978-0-06-143092-3
Another school year has started and Jack is once more in Miss Stretchberry’s class and once again they are exploring poetry. Last year Jack wrote some amazing poems about his dog Sky, who was killed by a car. Miss Stretchberry asks Jack if he has any more Sky poems to share but he doesn’t. He has no more Sky poems in him, though he thinks he could write about a cat, a “crazy mean fat black cat.”
Jack mentions that his uncle Bill does not think that the poems Jack has written thus far are proper poems because they have no rhyme, a regular meter, symbols, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and all the other things that uncle Bill thinks a poem should have. Hearing this makes Jack want to “punch” his uncle.
Luckily, Miss Stretchberry has a more enlightened view of what constitutes a poem, and knowing that she is on his side makes Jack feel a lot better. Mind you, she does get her students to explore what alliteration and onomatopoeia are, and Jack starts to enjoy the process. He creates a poem in homage to one that was written by Edgar Allen Poe, and in his poem he uses lots of sound words. Exploring what onomatopoeia can do for a poem makes Jack wonder what it would be like to read a poem that is full of sound words if you could not hear. How would you perceive a yip, a squeak, and a buzz if you could not hear them?
Thanks to a cat that lives in his neighborhood, the “mean” cat, Jack does not like cats, but he does enjoy studying a poem about cats. Then Miss Stretchberry brings in her kittens, and Jack cannot help feeling that they are “fantastically funny.” He insists that he would not like one though because kittens grow into cats and cats are “creepy.” We then find out why Jack hates cats. He tried to rescue one and got clawed for his pains.
As he continues to explore poems, Jack finds out that many people like cats. Even his hero, the author Walter Dean Myers, has a soft spot for felines. In spite of himself, Jack’s anti-cat feelings begin to soften round the edges. Maybe just a little. When Jack’s parents give him a kitten for Christmas he softens completely.
As the days unfold Jack dives into exploring more and more poems. Poems about cats, of course, and poems that have stories, and sounds, and so much more. What he never expects is that the glorious words in poems will help him build a new bridge between himself and his mother; his loving mother who cannot hear words at all.
This remarkable book takes us through a young boy’s year, a year full of exploration, discovery, and new beginnings. We see as his eyes are opened to so many new possibilities as he learns to love cats, to connect with his mother in new ways, and to appreciate fully the glory of the written word.