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If Not for the Cat (Horn Book Fanfare List (Awards))
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
For years and years now a curse has been floating over Jack Prelutsky's head. The curse reads, and I am quoting here, "Thou shalt make no silly poem books without being compared, first and foremost, to Shel Silverstein at all times". Mr. Prelutsky has labored under this curse for years, finding his own way to express himself but undoubtedly gritting his teeth whenever someone, however innocently, says, "It's good. But I think I like 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' better". View now Jack Prelutsky's greatest hour. In this, quite possibly the best book of haiku for children, he has teamed with remarkable watercolor artist Ted Rand to bring us one of the most beautiful, most well-written, and most deeply moving books of poetry to hit the market in a long long time. I don't usually bite my cheek in frustration when a book is not awarded a Caldecott Honor after publication, but I do so now (painfully) in spades.

The book contains seventeen sweet and simple haikus. The titular poem reads, "If not for the cat / And the scarcity of cheese / I could be content". This sort of sets the tone for the rest of the book. For once, Prelutsky isn't afraid to bring out the big guns. He throws out large words that kids will learn simply by reading the poems in the context in which they occur. Says a jellyfish of deep blue, "Boneless, translucent / We undulate, undulate, / Gelatinously". The humor of these poems is of a slower sweeter nature than you'll find in books like, "Baby Uggs Are Hatching". A particularly Yoda-like sloth comments with baby on its chest, "I am slow I am / Slowest of the slow I am / In my tree I am". I better stop copying down these poems word for word, but you get the idea. They're all remarkably well-written and some carry a slight philosophical bent. Of these, the sweetest and most meaningful comes from the surprising source of a mother kangaroo and her joey.

The pictures? The pictures are breathtaking. It's no wonder that the image of a hummingbird sipping nectar was taken as the cover of the New York Public Libraries Best Children's Books of 2004. Using a mix of sumi brush drawings in India ink, traditional watercolors, chalk, spatter (no idea), and printmaking techniques on BOTH rag stock watercolor paper and rice paper ... well let's just say a lot of work has gone down here. I could literally flip through this book all day just staring at the images. Whether it's a small delicate white moth nearing a homey if dangerous candle flame or a sweet playful otter cracking red spiky urchins on its tummy, Rand has given us a book that is truly worth reading.

At a certain time of year teachers will enter my library and ask for recommendations of haiku for their children. Before, my suggestions were always half-hearted well-I-heard-this-was-goods. Now I have a book to be excited about. Even if you don't particularly like haiku as a form (like myself) you will adore this book. It brings out the best in its author, its illustrator, and the style itself. One of the few must-purchase picture books currently in stores.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2004
A visual feast.

A literary delight.

(You'll feel for the mouse.)

Haiku is simple enough in theory: it's three lines, each with five syllables, seven and then five again. Here, poet Prelutsky and illustrator Rand show how the simple can be made sublime in the hands of true masters.

A third-grade friend, having looked at the book and heard the 'rules' of Haiku, immediately composed a poem to her pet hamster:

We scurry like mice.

We run from nighttime to dawn.

We are soft and cute.

(I'd mention that my friends are now e-mailing each other in Haiku, but if you hadn't read the book, you wouldn't understand...)

This book is a treasure for children of all ages.

And would someone PLEASE get that poor mouse some cheese!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2008
This anthology of poetry includes a variety of haiku poems by Jack Prelutsky. The poems share a common theme of creatures including both animals and insects. An index at the back of the book details each creature's name.

This book was extremely interesting to me because I enjoy writing Haiku, but I know it is often disliked by young students because it is often quite symbolic in nature. In contrast, Prelutsky's collection is somehow insightful enough to keep adults intrigued, yet simple enough for children to enjoy. I think Prelutsky's work in this collection might inspire some young writers to try Haiku poetry.

In the classroom, I might use this book as a morning mystery reading...reading one poem aloud each day and encouraging students to guess the animal being represented. Then I would reveal the animal at the end of the day. I would also encourage students to find the patterns in the words and attempt to write their own animal Haikus.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I use this book when I am teaching forms of poetry and when I am teaching the Word Choice element of the 6+1 traits of writing. Beautiful illustrations and the haikus are absolutely lovely.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Jack Prelutsky, If Not for the Cat (Greenwillow, 2004)

The problem with If Not for the Cat, Jack Prelutsky's marvelous book of guess-the-animal senryu, is that there's not nearly enough of it. It runs forty pages, which is about right for the preschool set, but couldn't we have done one senryu and awesome illustration per page, instead of giving each a two-page spread? Yes, this is very good stuff indeed, introducing toddlers not only to animals but to (pretty well-crafted) poetry as well. Sequel, please! *** 1/2
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2010
This is such a sweet book..................even though it is aimed at children, it caught my attention in the waiting room of our vet's office. I was recently involved in an arts exhibit where writers in our community wrote haiku poems and we visual artists made art to express our reactions to or interpretations of the poems. It was very successful and so is this collaboration between Prelutsky and Rand.
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on January 1, 2013
This book is a wonderful addition to a classroom or a home. I use it in my 3rd grade classroom to use while teaching poetry and the kids love it. I usually introduce the idea of haiku, then read them the poems in this book, keeping the pictures to myself. As I finish each poem I have them guess the nature-related subject the poem is referring to. Then we discuss how haiku poetry is generally about nature. After that I have them write a haiku of their own. It usually comes out in the style of this book! The kids love to guess each other's animals from the poems.

Great book, really! The kids love for me to read it to them over and over again, even though they already know what animals the poems are about.
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on August 26, 2014
I am not a fan of Jack Prelutsky -- most of his children's poetry is nonsensical garbage, in all honesty -- but this book of haiku is first rate, lavishly illustrated, and worth a read by anyone of any age. Each haiku is about an animal; here are three:

From nests in the clouds
We survey our dominion
With telescope eyes an Eagle

Safe inside my pouch
Sleeps the future of my kind --
Delicate and frail a Kangaroo

Raucously we caw.
Your straw men do not fool us.
We burgle your corn. a blackbird

Every public library should have a copy of this wonderful book.
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on June 17, 2013
Not only is the haiku poetry in this book captivating, but the pictures are beautiful too. I've used this book in various classrooms and read the poem and asked the students to identify the animal being described. It is a good activity to use in a classroom setting and not only exposes the class to haiku, it also enriches their imagination.
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on February 9, 2014
I'm a teacher and I bought this book for my 1st graders. I thought it would be great to teach inferences (and it is), but the vocabulary is very advanced. I like the book, I I still plan to use it, but I will have to do a lot of scaffolding and switching around of the words to help my ELLs and other students.
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