Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vintage Book Review - The first American picture book that revolutionized kid's books

                                    Quote of the Day!

                      "Book lovers never go to bed alone."
                                                    ~AUTHOR UNKNOWN

Well here is the book I am going to be highlighting today for you.  Published in 1928.  The pioneer of all kid's picture books and one you need to know about and perhaps add to your collection.

The critics claim that "Millions of Cats" was truly the first American picture book done by an American author/artist.  Prior to its publication in 1928 there were only English picture books for children.  Some have gone so far as to say this book initiated the picture book movement in America.  It is considered a classic of children's literature and continues today to remain in print.  

Why is it so unique?

Wanda Gag designed the "double-page spread."  This was her own innovation and illustrators since have used this stylistic device to enhance their own works.  She went on to write and illustrate other books in her career but this is considered to be her "Masterpiece."  

The type

The story text itself was printed by hand, by Wanda Gag's brother, Howard.  His handmade lettering fits comfortably around his sister's illustrations and serves as a visual link between the pictures and the story.  This handwritten text was an a novelty at the time and gave the impression that any child could have penned this book and called it his own.  The text is well written and repetitive.

The origin?

The story originated in oral versions.  It is said Wanda made up the story for the children of friends she was living with in New York city in the early 1920's.  She perfected it through countless re-tellings and  by the children begging for the more time.  "Millions of Cats" uses rhythmic language and cadenced rhyme, devices of repetition and refrain belonging to the oral traditions.  (cited from

                On to the best part.....about the book itself....

Title:  Millions of Cats
Author and Illustrator:  Wanda Gag (pronounced Gog)
Published:  1928

This black and white picture book is a tale of a very lonely, old couple who live in a "nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was."  One day the old woman sighs and wishes for a cat.  Her loving, dedicated husband sets out to find the perfect cat for her and grants her that wish.  After walking through many hills and valleys he stumbles upon a hill completely covered with cats, "hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats."  (Oh I remember so well reading that repetitive line to my kindergartener's and them chanting that back to me every time it popped up in the book thereafter).   Great fun!

The old man wants to pick the prettiest cat for his wife but every time he looks in another direction he spots the next pretty cat.  He scoops up as many pretty cats as his old arms can hold and heads off home.  But guess what?  The rest of the felines follow along behind him until he reaches his house.  His wife takes one look at the cat-mob and exclaims, "We can never feed that many cats",  "What are we going to do with them all?"  She and her husband rush indoors and shust the door behind them, leaving the cats to decide which one of them was the prettiest.  After a fierce, fatal quarrel amongst the out - of  -control swarm of cats, the couple take a peek through the window and there is not one cat left outside in their yard.  Off in the bushes they notice a small, scrawny kitten huddling there and they come out to rescue it.  The little guy had decided he wasn't pretty enough to enter the beauty contest so he snuck away and safely hid himself from the mayhem and chaos .  

The old couple lovingly pick him up and take him inside where they nourish and pamper him into perfect health.  As he grows both physically (and emotionally on the old man and woman), he becomes the most beautiful cat in the world to them and they all live happily ever after.  

This book won the John Newbery Honor award in 1929. (The Caldecott did not exist yet.)

About the author:

  • Wanda Gág
  • Wanda Hazel Gág was an American artist, author, translator and illustrator. She is most noted for writing and illustrating the children's book Millions of Cats which won a Newbery Honor Award and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. Wikipedia
    AwardsNewbery MedalCaldecott MedalNewbery Honor
                                       ( She looks like a flapper from the 1920's doesn't she? )

                  YouTube :   Read the entire book online - "Millions of Cats" / goldfishman82

  •                                        Book Review Rating:     9+  (Close to perfection!)

  • Read on and read always!

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