According to their About Us section on the website, Chronicle Books is an independent publisher based in San Francisco that has the tagline “see things differently,” which is further emphasized with their attention to publishing books with “design [that] supports and enhances the content.” Although they publish books, stationary, journals and gifts for both adults and children, their award-winning books for 2017 were all children’s books, including They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel, winner of the Caldecott Medal and listed on the NYPL Best Books List for 2016, and Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi, a 2017 Mildred L. Batchelder Award winner that was translated from Japanese into English and features beautiful watercolor illustrations.
Their Kids+Teens section is further categorized into bestsellers (including their 2017 award winners); books by age (0-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, teens); games and activities by age; and subject (including back to school, diverse books, family & friendship, vehicles and general nonfiction). Although some of their books will never show up in a great library collection due to their vapid and trend-like appearance and content, there are clearly diamonds in the rough produced by this publishing company. Some of their picture books, as mentioned above, are beautiful illustrated and designed to complement content that kids will be sure to enjoy and remember.
Published by Chronicle Books:
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel (winner of the Caldecott Medal)
Review #1: [Children’s Literature, written by Kayla Headlee]
How others see us is well worth pondering. As a cat takes a walk, the illustrator shows what the cat looks like in the eyes of different animals. Through the eyes of a human-friendly and cute, a fish-blurry and bulged, a bird-very small, and more, the illustrator gives accurate representations of what the cat would look like to these different animals. The page showing the mouses interpretation of the cat could be frightening to young readers. At the end of the cats walk, he comes to some water and finally sees himself through his eyes as he sees his reflection. The repetitive words make the book easy to read and the illustrations can also teach young children what different animals look like. This book would be great to use in the classroom to demonstrate perspective and how everyone can look at the same thing but interpret it completely differently.
Review #2: [Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2016 (Vol. 84, No. 12)]
Wouldn’t the same housecat look very different to a dog and a mouse, a bee and a flea, a fox, a goldfish, or a skunk? The differences are certainly vast in Wenzel’s often melodramatic scenes. Benign and strokable beneath the hand of a light-skinned child (visible only from the waist down), the brindled cat is transformed to an ugly, skinny slinker in a suspicious dog’s view. In a fox’s eyes it looks like delectably chubby prey but looms, a terrifying monster, over a cowering mouse. It seems a field of colored dots to a bee; jagged vibrations to an earthworm; a hairy thicket to a flea. “Yes,” runs the terse commentary’s refrain, “they all saw the cat.” Words in italics and in capital letters in nearly every line give said commentary a deliberate cadence and pacing: “The cat walked through the world, / with its whiskers, ears, and paws… // and the fish saw A CAT.” Along with inviting more reflective viewers to ruminate about perception and subjectivity, the cat‘s perambulations offer elemental visual delights in the art’s extreme and sudden shifts in color, texture, and mood from one page or page turn to the next. A solo debut for Wenzel showcasing both technical chops and a philosophical bent.
Evaluation of Reviews:
The reviewers behind Review #1 and Review #2 slightly differed in their description and analysis of They All Saw a Cat, but it was clear by their concluding statements that all of three of us, myself included, agreed that this was a great picture book worthy of recommendation for kids. When applying Horning’s guidelines to these two reviews, both delivered on the suggestion of an interesting opening sentence; offered in-depth descriptions of the illustrations and words; and provided enough information for a non-reader to understand the book’s content and purpose.
When comparing the reviews against each other, however, it’s clear that Review #1 and Review #2 do different things. Review #1 seems to fall into the trap of book reviews that rely too heavily on description rather than analysis (Horning, 2010), but it does fulfill the needs of librarians/teachers who “…appreciate comments about a book’s popular appeal or suggestions of how it might be shared with children,” (p. 178). Review #2 is more critical in their analysis, with the use of phrases like “melodramatic” and “light-skinned child” to describe how the picture book is viewed through an adult’s perspective. I’m not sure why it was important to include the “light-skinned child arm” in the review, since the arm only shows up on one page and never shows up again, and I felt “melodramatic” was a negative word – I probably would’ve used “exaggerated” instead.
Headlee, Kayla. (n.d.). [Review of the book They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel]. Available from Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database: http://www.clcd.com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/#/bookdetail/1/0/ SfmPgklngpHMEpmm/bdrtop
Horning, K. (2010). From cover to cover: Evaluating and reviewing children’s books (Rev. ed.). New York: Collins.
(2016, June 15). [Review of the book They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel]. Available from Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/brendan-wenzel/they-all-saw-a-cat/