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Pete is Superb!
on July 26, 2010
I was extremely disappointed to read the School Library Journal's review of Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. As the owner of a children's bookstore in Decatur, Georgia, I have had a very different experience.
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes has been on the New York Times' Bestseller List for several weeks and has been the best selling book in our store's history. The reason the book has done so well -- incredibly well for an unknown author and illustrator -- is because Pete is a superb book.
Author Eric Litwin has a considerable history of working with children as a teacher, storyteller, and musician. As a result of years of work, Eric has developed an excellent rapport with kids and a deep understanding of how to connect with them using a variety of approaches.
A former electrical engineer, James Dean found his true calling in his second career as a painter. Pete the Cat is a character James created over ten years ago and who has come to be recognized and beloved all over the Atlanta area.
Eric had an idea for a story involving Pete, and subsequently met James by random chance on an Atlanta street. The collaboration began. Drafts were written and sketches were revised. Advice was sought and heeded. When James and Eric were satisfied with their work, the two published the book themselves, selling it on their own and through a handful of bookstores. (Little Shop of Stories was one such store.)
(This is not how a children's picture book typically comes together. In the vast majority of circumstances, an author will submit a manuscript to a publisher. Upon acceptance, an editor will be assigned the key task of selecting an illustrator whose work will not only complement the text but bring an added dimension. There are excellent exceptions where an author and illustrator will submit their work as a team. Jacky Davis and David Soman write and illustrate the Ladybug Girl books. (They're married to each other.) Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (their wives were co-workers) did The True Story of the Three Little Pigs together and went on to do The Stinky Cheese Man and other books.)
The book sold fantastically well and was subsequently published by Harper Collins. For good reason.
For a children's picture book to be truly successful, it must work for both the child as well as the adult who is asked to read it 100 times. Or more.
From the grownup perspective, Pete is fun to read. The text has a rhythm to it. One can sing the refrain. After only a few reads one can successfully encourage the child to participate. ("Goodness no!") At the same time the parent knows that the younger child is learning colors and the older child, because of the repetition and the visual clues, can begin to learn to read. The illustrations are bright and lively, creative and surreal, and work perfectly with the text.
There is also a moral to Pete's story.
For the child, the book is just fun.
Little Shop of Stories