One of the things I enjoy most about hanging out with kids is their sense of wonder, the way they are constantly reminding me to see the world through fresh eyes. Little things, like a small bug or leaf, or the magic of a Christmas tree, become much more profound and nuanced when you’re watching a little one see and understand them for the first time. It can be so instructive and helpful to see through someone else’s eyes—and it is this quality that I also love about Brendan Wenzel’s award-winning picture book, They All Saw a Cat.
While obviously familiar with my own perception of different kinds of animals, I’ve never given much thought to the way that animals see each other. Taking the simple act of a cat just walking through the outdoors, Wenzel masterfully uses different mediums (I chuckled at the note on the copyright page that says “the illustrations in this book were rendered in almost everything imaginable”) to present the reader with views of the cat through the eyes of a dog, a fox, a mouse, a flea, a snake, and a worm, among others. It’s a fascinating and fun take on differing perspectives. I think my favorite spread is one in which a goldfish stares warily at a pair of huge watery yellow eyes, with just a shadowy hint of the cat’s head and whiskers surrounding the giant orbs. Some views are full of detail, others are more abstract, and some focus on implied emotion as well, like a spread in which a mouse sees the cat in all black, with bared fangs and huge claws, against a vivid red background full of spiky triangles.
There is much fodder for discussion here, either one-on-one or with a bigger group; why different animals see things differently, whether their vision is different than ours or just their perception, why some of the illustrations are only in black and white, etc. The text uses repeated refrains to establish a pattern, as well as to underscore the theme; each individual animal sees “a cat,” but every few pages it is confirmed that “they all saw the cat” (the same one). The pattern is upended at the end of the book, however, when the cat encounters its own wavy, rippled reflection in a pond. Reading They All Saw a Cat reminds me that we all see the world differently—and that can be a beautiful thing!
Featured image courtesy of Chronicle Books
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scroll to the bottom of the New York Times’ “Children’s Books Live Illustration” page (here) to watch Brendan Wenzel read his book, and do a brand-new watercolor illustration!