The Kitty Cat Curriculum: Transitioning from Picture to Chapter Books

My 4-year-old daughter loves books so much that I can merely threaten to dock a book at bedtime and I’ve done something worse than “1-2-3ing” her. Feeding a child’s hunger for books and reading is easy at first, but once the picture book genre starts to lose its challenge, finding age-appropriate content in chapter book form is not so easy. Bridging the gap from gorgeously illustrated stories to sparsely illustrated black and white pages is a task that not even I am up for now that I’ve become immersed in the picture book format, but it’s transition time.

Frankly I’d like to see a defined genre of books that perfectly combines both formats into one. Actually, there are some out there, but I want more! In the meantime, starting with your child’s favorite topic: cats, dinosaurs, princesses, etc., use the picture book as a springboard for diving into deeper content-related reading materials that provide an opportunity for transformation, while maintaining continuity and a continued love of reading.

The following list is an example of what can be achieved when you branch out a bit, but stay consistent with the topic or theme your child loves. It is meant as a guide for parents, teachers, caregivers or grandparents of 4-6 year-old early readers, and includes a collection of simple picture books, fiction and non-fiction books, biography, chapter-based and reference-style books. The format and relevant themes of the book are noted as well, as is an author website if current.

And if your child loves animals, it’s a great reading list for the transition from picture to chapter book.

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell. 2005. Hachette.
author website: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/features/patrickmcdonnell/questions-and-answers.html

In my book, this is one of the best children’s stories of all time. A story of friendship and love between an unlikely couple, a cat named Mooch and his best dog friend Earl. Simple illustrations and text make this story by Patrick McDonnell, author of the Mutts comic strip, a classic. Mooch treks all over to find the perfect gift for his friend, and what he finds is the best present of all. (Picture Book; friendship, giving)

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. 2004. Harper Collins Publishers. New York. NY
author website: http://www.kevinhenkes.com

A simply illustrated picture book about a little kitten who mistakes the full moon for milk…  “still there was a little bowl of milk, just waiting.” A story of persistence, Kitten’s First Full Moon epitomizes my daughter’s favorite- and only quote, “Mommy, if you don’t get it the first time, keep trying.” The book is a 2005 Caldecott Medal winner by Kevin Henkes, author of Chrysanthemum and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse(Picture Book; persistence)

My Cat Copies Me by Yoon-Duck Kwon. 2005. Kane Miller Book Publishers.

A colorfully illustrated picture book about a young girl whose cat copies her every move. A visual depiction of the closeness of a child and her pet, through the eyes of a Korean illustrator who gives us glipses of her culture as the story unfolds. “When I get scared, I hide under my blanket, and my cat hides with me. She snuggles in, and purrs. My friend, my cat, copies me. But from now on, I will copy my cat.” And she becomes adventurous, following the cues of her feline friend. (Picture Book; Korean culture, pet ownership, overcoming shyness & fears)

Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley. 1992. Marsh Media. Shawnee Mission, Kansas.

Piccolo the Venetian stray alley cat is all about adventures, but when he finds two baby kittens who are without their mother, he considers being their parent. Breaking from traditional stereotypes of mothers and women as nurturers, the author challenges the idea that only mommies are capable of being great caregivers. Through Piccolo’s journey of self-discovery, the illustrator takes us on a beautiful tour of Venice, Italy.  (Picture Book; gender roles, same sex couple-related issues, stray cat populations, travel/Italy)

• Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein. 2008. Little, Brown and Company. New York, New York.
author interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca2Ly4Vpb5Y

A little cat named Wabi Sabi is determined to discover the meaning of her name. Along the way, WOW! Vertically oriented illustrative collages and the writer’s  combination of words are mixed with haiku, Japanese characters with more than one “lesson” at the end. An unexpected treat, and a great way to explore Japanese haiku, a short traditional Japanese poem in which meaning is usually expressed through details of the senses and of nature, with a seasonal reference and a transition of some kind. Its form takes writing the first line of five syllables, a second of seven, and a third of five again, as in: Meigetsu ya ike o megurite yo mo sugara: “the full moon—going around the pond, all night long. (Picture Book,  language arts, poetry, haiku, Chinese and Japanese culture)

Comet’s Nine Lives by Jan Brett. 1996. The Putnam & Grosset Group. New York. New York.
author website: http://www.janbrett.com

A cat with nine lives?  ‘Splain that to little Ricky… but Comet the cat of Nantucket Island goes through eight of his lives pretty quickly, with a ghost-like image that fades with every new feat gone bad in this beautifully illustrated picture book. It’s an odd conversation starter about death, but a great way to explore the issues of stray cat populations, pet ownership and myths—just don’t have your kid explore the myth online without vetting sources first. It’s a mixed bag! (Picture Book, fitting in, death, 9-lives myth, travel, adventure/Nantucket)

Big Cat, Small Cat by Amy Rubinger. 2008. Abbeville Publishing Group. New York. NY.

“This cat is down low, this cat is up high… this cat is wet, this cat is … “ Your child will delight in knowing the rhyming endings of each page. Opposites and simple, cute kitty cat illustrations abound. Just a fun little book in the spirit of Dr. Seuss. (Picture Book, language arts/opposites & rhyming)

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel. 2005. Roaring Brook Press. New York, NY.
author interview: http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/media.jsp?id=672

For the verbally voracious… an ABC picture book with a twist on fruits and veggies, animals and opposite concepts. “She Ate my homework, Bit grandma, Clawed the curtains, and more.” You’re in for a ride – four times- around the alphabet with each time focused on a different topic kids will enjoy. (Picture Book, language arts/ABC style book with food, verbs and animals)

The Fire Cat by Esther Averill. 1960. Barnes & Noble Publishing with Harper Collins. New York, NY.

Pickles the cat is a troublemaker with some behavioral issues, until he discovers his passion in life: being a fire cat. “Pickles is a cat who wishes to do big things. And someday he will do them.” With that little encouragement and faith from his friend Mrs. Goodkind, Pickles finds his way in life in this simply illustrated beginner chapter book. (Picture/Chapter Book; careers, strengths, personality)

The Case of the Cat’s Meow by Crosby Bonsall. 1965. Harper Collins. New York, NY.

If the little rascals formed a private detective agency and had a whiny little brother with a pregnant cat, that would be this book. A cute story of sleuthing and mystery, that touches on my childhood dream of being a private “eye.” If you can get past the “Tubby” and “Skinny” stereotypical nicknames and a few examples of name calling, it’s redeeming quality is the message of friendship in the end (Picture/Chapter Book; careers, responsibility, friendships)

Three Stories You Can Read to your Cat by Sara Swan Miller. 1999. Sandpiper.

Three-stories–in-one with a unique perspective: a read aloud from child to cat. “Would you like to sit on my lap? One day YOU woke up early, you were ready for fun.” An enjoyable set of stories to encourage young kids to read aloud to their pet (or a stuffed animal), and it’s filled with illustrations that keep kids engaged. I’m already envisioning learning extensions–a first person diaristic account of your cat’s day based closely on the book- with journal entries or drawings or a performance about things your cat thinks about. (Picture/Chapter Book; pet perspectives)

The Cat on the Mat is Flat by Andy Griffiths. 2006. Holtzbrinck Publishers.
author website: http://andygriffiths.com.au/about

The crook who wrote this book stole it off my nook. Not really, but I should have written this book. Literally the night before I found it, my daughter and I were playing a bedtime game of turning three rhyming phrases into a sentence, and viola! I kid you not, this book appeared. A great easy read for your avid young reader. (Picture/Chapter Book; language arts, rhyming words)

• Raining Cats and Dogs: A Collection of Irresistible Idioms and Illustrations to Tickle the Funny Bone by Will Moses. 2008. Philomel.

While I would have preferred larger full-page illustrations of each idiom, the idea of this book is great. The illustrated idioms for children are a good example for extending the activity into a classroom setting, but the book needed more background and detail about idioms as a part of speech and in connection to their origin. Nonetheless, a cute visual reference for introducing a young child to idioms. (Picture book; language arts, English-language idioms)

The Kitten’s Tale by Darrel & Sally Odgers. 2010. Kane Miller, EDC Publishing. Tulsa, OK.

A fictional chapter book, with few illustrations, about a homeless kitten who hangs out at a vet clinic, and her dog friend’s determination to help her get over her fears and find a home. (Chapter Book, friendships, fears, careers/vet)

• Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel. 2008. Square Fish, McMillan Books. New  York, NY.

Somewhere between a graphic novel, picture book and chapter book, this heavily illustrated chapter book is a great foray into the world of chapter books. The glossary at the back is also a great way to introduce kids to vocabulary without the trek to the dictionary. For a cat lover, it offers truthful and sound advice for bathing your kitty cat. So much in fact, that I was encouraged to follow the books methodology and bathe our cat after reading it. Bad Kitty Gets a Bath also includes a Q&A with the author at the end. I wish more books had the elements of this great little gem for animal lovers. (Picture/Chapter Book; pet ownership; humor)

• Happy Birthday Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel. 2009. Square Fish, McMillan Books. New  York, NY.

A combination of graphic novel, picture book and chapter book, this heavily illustrated chapter book is the follow-up to Bad Kitty Takes a Bath (see above), with a similar format. The glossary is substituted with an equally useful appendix that details the brief history of the different cat breeds mentioned in the book. (Picture/Chapter Book; pet ownership; cat breeds, humor)

Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog by Cynthia Rylant. 1994. Harcourt Children’s Books.
author interview: http://www.harcourtbooks.com/authorinterviews/bookinterview_rylant.asp

We stumbled upon the Mr. Putter and Tabby series while at the library recently, and what a find. These heavily illustrated chapter books are separated into simple chapters: The Lollypup, The Nightmare and The Dream Dog, for example. An easy read for an early reader, with humor, friendships, examples of figurative language  and engaging stories for anytime. (Picture/Chapter Book; series, humor, language arts- figurative language, relationships )

• All About My Cat by Philipp Keel. 2003. Broadway. New York, NY.

Let your child be the biographer with kitty cat checklists and fill-in-the-blanks for describing your friendly or ferocious feline. Memorable to say the least… as in this example…“Why do you have a cat? (Ok, Kleenex time) “because I really wanted a cat because my other cats died,” Spoken like a true 4-year-old.   While not all of the keepsake book is at level for a 4-6 year-old, it is something you can come back to as your child- and cat, get bigger. (A Biography of sorts)

• What if My Cat…? by Claire Arrowsmith and Francesca Riccomini. 2008. Interpet Publishing.

A great quick reference guide to understanding your cat, his development, his habits and annoying problems, like #50: What if my cat is determined to lick plastic objects? Apparently our kookie cat’s mannerisms are “rawther” common. Presented in an easy to read format that has short passages and accompanying photographs or illustrations of cats, it’s easy enough to follow for a young child, but not all in one sitting. Of course it doesn’t hurt that my daughter’s breed of cat is pictured multiple times throughout the book. (Reference)

• The Complete Cat Book by Paddy Cutts. 1992. Smithmark.

Everything you needed to know about felines but were a ‘’fraidy cat” to ask.  This compendium of the cat includes detailed information about care, breeds and topics related to health of cats and kittens. It’s a must have for anyone considering a cat or like mine- any child obsessed with cats. (Reference with great photographs)

Other cat-related books to consider:

• Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. 1997. Blue Sky Press. (Picture book; pet death)

• Hemingway’s Cats: An Illustrated Biography by Carlene Brennen. (biography)

The Dog Who Rescues Cats by Philip Gonzalez. (non-fiction)

• Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones by Judy Schachner (picture book)

Dancing with Cats by Burton Silver. (dance)

• Impressionist, Cats & Dogs: Pets in the Painting of Modern Life by James Rubin. (art)

A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco. (poetry)

• Warriors: Cats of the Clans by Erin Hunter. (fantasy/fiction chapter books)

The Abandoned by Paul Gallico. (novel/ fantasy)

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One Response to “The Kitty Cat Curriculum: Transitioning from Picture to Chapter Books”

  1. Keith Ramundo Says:

    I could not be in greater agreement with this article’s position on children’s picture books. I was so annoyed and somewhat angered as many were with the October 7th article in the New York Times’ titled “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” that it is so refreshing and reinforcing to read an article with a contrary opinion to the NY Times

    Sadly, the traditional publishing industry, as a majority, is so locked into the “long in the tooth” picture book template, 24 to 32 page format with average text of 850 to 1250 words, that it is no wonder that in some respects picture books are falling out of favor. Notwithstanding, picture books according to teachers, librarians, parent, and many articles of rebuttal to the New York Times article are, and will continue to be a critical reading source to young readers for all the creative stimulus and reading development they offer.

    The need for a transitional picture book bridging the traditional picture book template to chapter books as the Kitty Cat Curriculum article suggests is resonating louder among growing audiences as many articles of recent suggest. In response to this need, a new genre, call it a hybrid picture book with a format of 42 pages with expanded text in the order of 2100 words on average would no doubt fit that need in the marketplace with popular acceptance and support.

    To add to the list of wonderful books mentioned in this article, I created a publishing company, Nick the Cat, LLC and our first product is a “transitional” children’s picture book series. The title of the series is “Nick the Wise Old Cat” which, as a series, each book offers value messages to children in the expanded hybrid format. As this was our intent from the onset, Nick the Wise Old Cat is a picture book series that offers character and storyline development that works with parents who enjoy reading to their children as well as the young reader looking for a more challenging read while enjoying wonderful illustrations that bring the story to life. Intended ages are 5 to 10 but I must add we are finding that adults enjoy the books as well and buying them for their own personal library.

    In the Nick the Wise Old Cat series, there are five books published to date, four in “The Importance of Family” series (including our just published holiday book) and the first book in “The Importance of Friendship” series. All five books individually, and as a series, have received a Gold Mom’s Choice Award. A portion of the proceeds from the first series benefits Adopt -a-Pet.com and the holiday book and second series benefits the Thomas Hartman Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Inc.

    For more information visit our website: http://www.nickthecat.com. I hope your reading audience enjoys the Nick the Wise Old Cat series as much as we have enjoyed producing them and the future series to come.

    Keith Ramundo

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