Millions of Cats
This classic is as fresh today as when it was first published. The oldest American picturebook still in print, this book is famous for winning a 1929 Newbery Honor Award. Up to then, very few picturebooks had been recognised. It is famous, also, because Gág invented for it the double-page spread, now a taken-for-granted feature of picturebooks.
Ostensibly a simple tale, told in folk-tale style, the story concerns an elderly man who sets off to get a ‘pretty’ cat for his wife and comes across ‘millions and billions and trillions of cats’. His problem is that he cannot choose which one is the prettiest. He selects first one, then another, then another still, until he eventually sets off for home with all of the cats. As he journeys, we are shown some of the logistical problems of having so many cats, especially when they drink a lake dry and denude a hill of grass. The old lady is not slow to recognise these problems and determines to keep only the prettiest one. And that, right there, is the problem. The whimsical, folksy black-and-white illustrations appear simple, but are incredibly detailed, with very pleasing use of white space. A memorable refrain follows the up-and-down trajectory of the old man’s journey. The book would be a great classroom resource for an exploration of what counts as prettiness or beauty, and who decides and how. This ninetieth-anniversary edition would make a great addition to a classroom library.