Why is it the best? Here are a few reasons.
Great title. Cats are cool, so let’s read about millions of them.
You meet the very old man and the very old woman on the very first page and you like them immediately. But you see how their yard is sadly empty of a cat. The wife asks for a sweet little fluffy cat.
The ink drawings create this unique, stylized world. As you see the very old man walking over the sunny hills and through the cool valleys, you have the sense of a very long journey. Flipping the page, you can’t wait to see where his path leads him.
It has my favorite text from a children’s book:
Cats here, cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.
It’s so fun to repeat that with your child or a whole rug full of school kids. And it’s probably where our own kids heard the words millions, billions, and trillion first.
The old man is tender-hearted:
“So it happened that every time the very old man looked up, he saw another cat which was so pretty he could not bear to Leave it, and before he knew it, he had chosen them all.” Yup, millions of cats. Minimum.
…We’d want them all too, huh? So now he’s got a BIG problem, like any good story needs.
He journeys home with them and they’re like a plague of locusts. For instance when they’re thirsty, “Each cat took a sip of water, and the pond was gone!”
When he gets home it’s his wife who sees they have a problem. (Imagine the cat food budget, etc!) How this problem gets resolved so that they have just one perfect cat is pure genius. I still remember the magic of it from when I was three or four years old.
The last picture of them in the parlor is so cozy. They sit below framed portraits of a young bride and groom. It’s their young selves, a magical and mysterious detail for a small boy like I was, and still resemble now and then.
Wanda Gag (rhymes with log) is such an interesting artist. She had a tough childhood ably detailed in the recent picture book Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Loved To Draw (Deborah Kogan Ray, 2008).She has many books available. I recommend her version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for its wonderful illustrations.
There now, I could give you million and billions and trillions of reasons, but I think I’ll stop there.