Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Karen Hesse

A Kindle* of Cats



Phyllis Root’s cat, Luna

*Even though kindle means cats born in the same litter, the alliteration was hard to resist.

“All my work is done in the company of cats,” writes Nicola Bayley, wonderful picture book artist and writer, in her book The Necessary Cat.

I know what she means. Right now my cat Luna is sitting on the open copy of The Kittens’ ABC, clearly a cat of discerning literary taste.

Cats and writers seem to have a particular relationship. Cats wander in and out of our picture books, take naps on our keyboards, and curl up in our hearts. This month we looked at a few of the many picture books where cats play a role.

The Kittens' ABCI was introduced to Claire Turlay Newberry when I found a used copy of The Kittens’ ABC and was enchanted by her drawings of cats in which she captures them with a few lines in charcoal, pencil, and pastels. (Of her seventeen picture books, all but three are about cats.) The rhymes with each letter of this ABC are simple, but I could linger over those wise, playful, cozy pictures for hours. And if Luna has her way, curled up now on N is for Nap, I will.

Kittens like to take their naps
In boxes, bureau drawers, and laps;
Or else, along the sofa pillows,
In rows, like little pussywillows.

Green EyesAnother used book find is Green Eyes by A. Birnbaum, winner of a 1953 Caldecott honor. The story follows the first year of a springtime-born kitten’s life, from scrambling out of a large box to exploring the farm life around him—chickens, cows, pigs, goats. By the time leaves fall, followed by snow, the now almost grown cat fits more snugly in his box. The art is superb, strong black lines and bright colors. This is the only picture book Birnbaum both wrote and also illustrated, but his work appeared on The New Yorker covers over more than forty years. Scrolling through images of those covers, I found myself wishing he had illustrated a whole stack of picture books (two of my favorite images:  the woodpecker rattling away after a bug to feed the nest of little woodpeckers and the exuberant crocus in a pot).  

It’s hard for YouTube to do justice to the art, but you can see and hear Green Eyes, now reissued.

Millions of CatsMillions of Cats, written and illustrated by Wanda Gag, with double page spreads, black and white lithograph prints, and hand lettered text has been called the first true American picture book. Millions of Cats won a Newbery honor in 1929 (the Caldecott did not yet exist) and has been in print ever since. The text and art roll rhythmically through the story, and the smallest cat, who didn’t consider herself pretty enough to argue with the other cats about who was prettiest, is the only one left after the hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats fight so much they eat each other up. The littlest kitten, adopted  and loved by the little old lady and the little old man (cat owners might say the people were adopted by the kitten) becomes the prettiest cat of all.

Cats in Krasinski SquareCats are the heroes in The Cats in Krasnski Square by Karen Hesse, a fictional story based on a true story of cats helping outwit the Gestapo and smuggle food into the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.

The cats
from the cracks in the Wall,
the dark corners,
the openings in the rubble

With her older sister (all that is left of her family) the narrator, who escaped the Polish ghetto and now lives outside its walls, is part of the resistance smuggling food to Jews still imprisoned inside the ghetto, including her friend Michael.  When the resistance learns that the Gestapo is coming with dogs on leashes to sniff out the food arriving by train to be smuggled behind the walls, the narrator knows what to do:  round up as many cats as possible and take them to the station.  As the train arrives, the narrator and her friends  release the cats, which drives the dogs wild; during the distraction the food vanishes  from the station

through the Wall, over the Wall,  under the Wall,
into the Ghetto.

Wendy Watson, one of my favorite artists, illustrated the books in somber tones reflecting the gravity of the story, where acts of great courage can resist great darkness.

So many more cat books to love!  Here are a few to check out:

Cat books

All Archie says to the stray cat on the city sidewalk is, “Hi, Cat!” in Hi, Cat! by Ezra Jack Keats, but the cat follows him and manages to ruin every act of the show Archie and his friend Peter are putting on. Still, Archie decides that the cat “just kinda liked me!”

Cats aren’t mentioned in This is Our House by Hyewon Yum, but generations of cats and kittens weave in and out of the art of this deceptively simple story of immigration, family, and home.

Ginger written and illustrated by Charlotte Voake, is a tale of “sibling” rivalry when the cat of the house must deal with a new kitten.

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes tells of a kitten who thinks the first full moon of her life is a bowl of milk in the sky, but all her efforts to drink that milk end in disaster.  Luckily, when she returns home, a bowl of milk is waiting just for her.

Lola and the Rent-a-Cat, written and illustrated by Ceseli Josephus Jitta, tells how Lola, whose husband of many years has died, finds a cat to belong to (and keep) through the Internet. Lola chooses number 313 Tim:

  • Homely, slightly older cat
  • Loves attention and care
  • Fond of diet food

Lola and Tim are together all the time, and she is able to recall the good memories as she and Tim sit on a bench in the evenings, and Tim purrs as she strokes him. 

October 29 is National Cat Day, but any day is a good day to curl up with a cat book (and a cat, if one is handy).


Changing Science Fiction Forever

All-Story Magazineby Vicki Palmquist

In its October 1912 issue, All-Story Magazine published a short story by Edgar Rice Burroughs called “Tarzan of the Apes.” Do you remember the plot? John Clayton is born to parents who are marooned on the west coast of Africa. His parents, Lord and Lady Greystoke, die on his first birthday. John is adopted by Kala, an ape, who mothers him as one of her own. He is that child who is unaware he is human. He goes on to be a man more comfortable in the jungle than he is among the gentry, his birthright. He grows up and marries Jane Porter but he returns to his loincloth-and-knife existence as often as he can.

For many years, Tarzan of the Apes with its nearly flawless male hero was one of the books constantly named as a favorite among teen readers. Reading the book, one could imagine oneself living outside of society and any imposed restrictions and expectations. The jungle seemed like a hospitable place which, although very dangerous, offered opportunities to prove the mettle of your existence.

These books can be viewed through a nostalgic, historical lens as being written at a time when Burroughs, proud of his Anglo-Saxon heritage, wrote with the colonial viewpoint of white English supremacy. Today’s readers will find his attitude dated, if not repugnant, and yet the Tarzan books are a part of our growing-up as readers and their influence on an entire genre of fiction continues to be acknowledged.


Dr. Jane GoodallTarzan of the Apes does, indeed, have a tie-in with our Bookstorm™ this month, Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey (National Geographic).

In a 2012 interview on Big Issue, Dr. Goodall wrote: “I read the Tarzan books and of course I fell completely in love with Tarzan. I felt he’d married the wrong Jane—it should have been me. I was very jealous of Jane. My mum saved up to take me to see a Tarzan film at the cinema but a few minutes in I got very upset and had to be taken out. I said: ‘That wasn’t Tarzan.’ Johnny Weissmuller was not how I imagined Tarzan at all. And to this day I’ve never ever watched another Tarzan film.” (Photo: Dr. Jane Goodall, taken by jeekc in 2007, Creative Commons license.)


Music of the DolphinsIn literature and in science, children who are lost or abandoned in the wild are called “feral children.” There are a number of stories and books, offering evidence of our fascination with this concept.

Gilgamesh, Romulus and Remus, and Pecos Bill are classically represented as children raised by animals.

You may have read the following books or you’re adding them to your TBR pile now.

  • Mila in Music of the Dolphins by Karen Hesse
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
  • Mowgli in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Blue Lagoon by Scott O’Dell
  • Valentine Michael Smith in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was raised by Martians. This is not precisely fitting with the definition of feral children but, having never met a Martian, I’m not sure.
  • Even Gilligan’s Island had an episode with a “jungle boy,” played by Kurt Russell

Here’s an article about “Feral Children: Mind Blowing Cases of Children Raised by Animals,” written by Mihai Andrei for ZME Science


Edgar Rice BurroughsMarried, with two children, Burroughs tried his hand at many endeavors and didn’t succeed at any of them. The pressures to provide a living for his family spurred him on to submit a story he wrote for publication.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first published story was “Under the Moons of Mars,” featuring John Carter, which appeared in All-Story Magazine in 1912. It earned him $400. He’s credited with “helping to lead pulps into their golden era of publishing.” 

He sold Tarzan of the Apes to the Prank A. Munsey company for $700, which is $17,164 in today’s money. He had a hard time finding a book publisher, but once A.C. McClurg and Company published Tarzan, it became a 1914 bestseller.

Edgar Rice  Burroughs himself wrote, “In all these years I have not learned one single rule for writing fiction. I still write as I did 30 years ago; stories which I feel would entertain me and give me mental relaxation, knowing that there are millions of people just like me who will like the same things I like. Anyway, I have great fun with my imaginings, and I can appreciate–in a small way–the swell time God had in creating the Universe.”

Here is Chapter One of John Taliaferro’s biography, Tarzan Forever, The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Creator of Tarzan.


Facsimile Dust JacketDid you know that the town of Tarzana, California is located on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ former 550-acre ranch, which was named, not surprisingly, Tarzana Ranch?

Burroughs had another wildly successful book series beyond Tarzan, set at the Earth’s core! Known as Pellucidar, there are seven books, which also have a fervent following. In one of the books, Tarzan finds his way to Pellucidar, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core

The original dust jacket was hard to come by for collectors. In 2014, Phil Normand of recreated that original dust jacket and sold it to collectors for $50.

Are you a fan of the Tarzan books? Leave a comment to let us know why they appeal to you.



Peace is elusive. It is a goal of some people at some time in some parts of the world. As John Lennon wrote: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people sharing all the world …” Is […]


When I Was Your Age

When I was a small child, I spent a lot of time around adults. Having no brothers or sisters, no cousins living nearby, and spending summers and vacations with my grandparents, I went where they visited. Many of those people were their age. So I heard this phrase often: “When I was your age …” […]