Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Some Cats Are Rascals

There are three books in the series Why Some Cats Are Rascals, by Boszenna Nowiki, called Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3 in defiance of the author's creativity. I had a lot of fun zipping through all three, and I will enjoy reading them aloud to my cat-adoring daughter when she's a bit older. My main complaint about these books is not with the stories, but with production values. I looked up the publisher, Healthy Life Press (an odd-sounding choice for children's book publication), and I'm not really sure how these books came to be in their catalogue. They do offer Polish/English translation services on their website, so that may be the connection. At any rate, I thought the stories were darling, offering educational value and positive moral (but not religious) values in a very engaging, fun way. But I would have liked to have seen a better translation (there is no translator credited, so I'm not sure if the Healthy Life Press person is just not up to the task or if Ms. Nowiki chose to write in English or translate her own work), as there are many passages that just read...oddly. Weird word choices and strange syntax abound. The editing is also strange, with sentences that stop mid-line and re-start on the next line. And these stories are crying out for illustrations! There are only a couple in each book.

So far, I haven't really sold this book, so let me tell you why I care. In Book One, there are two parts. In the first, the cats are crazy for adventure and make a break for freedom (planning all along to return to the children of the house). They encounter obstacles they must overcome with teamwork, positive thinking, loyalty, and non-violent problem-solving, to make it back home. In the second part, they enter the Enchanted Forest and meet Prehistoric Cat. They help some downtrodden mice escape persecution from large, Prehistoric Mice (yeah, I know that sounds dumb, but it's a cute story). There are messages of hope, helping others, not being vengeful, and more problem-solving. Again, the cats solve the problem without resorting to violence. Throughout, we learn about different species of wild cats, among other things. In Book 2, the first (and longest) part takes place in ancient Egypt. The cats navigate ancient Egypt and overcome being trapped in a pyramid, then avoid being sacrificed. There is a lot of information on ancient Egypt and desert animals. Then a brief interlude takes the cats to Medieval Europe, where we learn about the witch hunts and the Black Plague. The last segment is really rather silly, a Home Alone story with the cats fending off robbers back at home, but I think kids would think it hilarious. In Book 3, the first part takes place in the Wildly Wild West, with an outlaw cat who has retired from a life of crime (or has he?), a Sheriff, and a rescue of cats imprisoned by rats. The second (and longest part) takes place on the Oregon Trail. And of course, the story ends at home.

I thought Ms. Nowiki did a fantastic job of weaving in information about animals, history, and anything else related to the adventures. Sometimes these passages did feel slightly textbooky, but mostly they were interesting asides during the story. I was also really excited about the moral aspect of the book. Most books that advertise a moral message are blatantly Christian, but these messages were just about being a good cat (or person)--loyalty, solving conflict without violence, cooperation, helping others, resisting the urge for revenge, persistence, and creative problem solving. I really liked the non-violent part--can you tell? Anyway, these were really cute books, and I wish a major publisher would reprint them with illustrations and a better translation. There was also a line at the end of Book 3: "Book 4 coming soon" but Book 3 was in 2006, so I'm not sure. I hope so!

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