They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
In early 2014 I reviewed the picture book Some Bugs, written by Angela Di Terlizzi and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. A fantastic, rhyming book, Wenzel's illustrations were unforgettable, calling to mind Eric Carle with a goofy undercurrent. I have been following Wenzel's career since then and am so excited to be reviewing the first picture book written an illustrated, They All Saw a Cat.
They All Saw a Cat is a story of observation and perspective, the idea for the book coming to Wenzel several years ago when he was teaching art classes in Nepal, noting that, "if every kid in the classroom draws the exact same thing - say, a cat - they will come up with a unique image, depending on their perspectives on and experiences with cats, that puts the animal in a different, new light." They All Saw a Cat follows a cat as it walks through the world, each person and creature who sees the cat viewing it differently. They All Saw a Cat is simple and brilliant, living up to all the praise that has been heaped upon it (see the end of the review for details of the heaps of praise.)
Wenzel's text in They All Saw a Cat is sleekly repetitive - read it out loud and you will probably find yourself instinctively singing the words. The book begins, "The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws . . ." To the child, the cat is all sweet, big eyes and happiness. To the dog, the cat is skinny and suspicious, slinking past. And to the fox? The cat is a puffy, mouthwatering, marshmallow of a morsel.
They All Saw a Cat twist and turns, just like the titular cat. How the cat looks to prey and predators, how the cat looks to a bee and to a worm, a flea and a bat, are just a few of the perspectives we are treated to as the cat walks through the world. The climax of the book finds the cat, a patchwork of all the perspectives. In the final pages, the cat approaches a pond, glimpsing his reflection, the text asking, "imagine what it saw?"
As the article in Publisher's Weekly from 2014 revealed, They All Saw a Cat was part of an eight publisher bidding war that was won by Chronicle Books, earning Wenzel a two-book deal and a six-figure deal. As the press material that came with They All Saw a Cat revealed, an editor from one of the losing houses proclaimed, "You guy have the next freakin' Eric Carle." My time working as an assistant to an agent was coming to an end just as Brendan Wenzel was introduced to him by Angela Di Terlizzi. Having witnessed a few bidding wars for manuscripts, I can only imagine what it was like in the office on the day that Chronicle prevailed. It's not often that a talent - and book - like Wenzel's comes along, and, as Ginee Seo, children's publishing director at Chronicle said, "I feel a bit embarrassed using a cliché, but as soon as I saw the proposal , I felt I was looking at an instant classic. . . the book is so intelligent and well thought-out that form the very first words and images you know you're in the hands of someone who is confident and knows what he is doing. Brendan's writing is spare and has a rhythm and pacing that is unusual for an artist to achieve. And his art has a sense of movement that is just beautiful. As an editor, I knew immediately that this was really rare."
Source: Review Copy