Children's Review: 10 Cats

British author/illustrator Emily Gravett's 10 Cats is a nearly wordless picture book full of bright hues and silly antics. Gravett expertly lets the counting, colors, and cats tell the whole sweetly entertaining story.

In the first spread, we meet the eponymous 10 cats: one snowy-white, beaming mother and nine relatively courteous calico, striped, spotted, and black kittens all sitting in a row against a white background. From "1 white cat" to "10 multicolored cats," though, the scene grows progressively more chaotic--and polychromatic. When Mama stretches and dozes off, her offspring begin to do what kittens do best: get into mischief. A series of red, yellow, and blue paint cans makes a terrific obstacle course and jungle gym. As the kitties clamber around and onto the cans, readers look for "2 black cats" (one climbs on Mom; one topples off the red paint can). Playtime escalates with "3 cats with stripes" and "4 cats with patches," as first the yellow paint can, then the blue, and finally the red somehow get opened. Now five cats--including Mom--have "red spots," there are "6 cats with yellow dots," and seven of them have "blue blotches."

10 Cats is more than fun and games, too. In the process of wreaking havoc, the playful kittens (and their unsuspecting, catnapping mother) help readers learn about colors, patterns, and numbers. After all, what might happen when blotches and dots smear together by way of wrestling kitties? Gravett's cheery primary shades (which turn into secondaries as the bedlam advances) bring the zany 1960 classic Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire to mind. The clean white background at the beginning is almost completely wallpapered with a riot of tints and tones by the end, and every cat becomes a veritable fur rainbow. Readers will giggle to see the nine wee ones conked out in the disarray just as Mama cat wakes up. There's only one response to this kind of mess: bath time!

Gravett (Bear and Hare Share; Cyril and Pat) is brilliant at using white space to paint a witty visual story. Her pencil and watercolor ("with a smidgen of digital fiddle-faddling") artwork is lovely and should appeal to all ages. Children will enjoy seeking patterns and counting kittens on each spread, especially as the hues mix more and more (finding "9 cats with green splats" is not easy when every cat has been splashed). 10 Cats deserves an easy-to-reach place of honor on the favorite picture book shelf. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Shelf Talker: In a vivacious, nearly wordless picture book that invites close and repeated scrutiny, nine mischievous kittens make a colorful mess and help readers learn about counting, patterns, and colors.

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