“The Shy Little Kitten” by Cathleen Schurr, Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren (1946)

Far be it from me to criticize a classic children’s book, but THIS. IS. STUPID.

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There is no plot and no characterization. The mother cat gives birth to her kittens. The kittens go out for a walk. The titular shy little kitten gets distracted and wanders off, encountering various other animals (a mole, a frog, a puppy and a squirrel), and then reunites with her family. Then a picnic is held. And the frog is stung by a bee. The end.

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This is the frog. He is unimportant, as are all things in this book.

As I said: STUPID! And very, very dull.

Is it really so hard to make a quality children’s book about cats? Captain Kitty seems so long ago now…

We are told that the little kitten is shy, but she never comes across as such. She apparently makes more friends than all her siblings have combined! Her shyness is never relevant to the plot (such as it is), never relevant to her character, and the narrative never really seems to address it. At about the midway point in this 32-ish page book, her supposed-shyness seems to vanish entirely – though that has less to do with her changing and growing as a character, and more to do with the sudden shift to a picnic.

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A picnic, might I add, which the cats throw for all the animals EXCEPT THEMSELVES! There is nothing at the picnic for the kitten, her siblings or their mother to eat! Unless…are we supposed to assume that the picnic is a trap? That the cats are luring the other barnyard animals into a false sense of security, at which point they will devour their guests?!

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Hmmm. That certainly would have made for a more compelling finale. Perhaps the frog being stung by the bee interrupted that cunning and bloodthirsty feline ploy?

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No, I think we all know that’s not what was intended by the author. There’s no keen insight, no commentary, no subversion. I will grant that this book is genuinely about a cat (even if the title still seems to lie to us) which makes it heads and whiskers above The Nine Lives of Clemenza, The Cat of Bubastes, and the “Magical Cats” mysteries. If I thought A Midwinter’s Tail went nowhere and said nothing, you can imagine how I feel about this little exercise in child-focused banality. And, say what I might have about The Color Kittens, that other little book did go somewhere… SOMEWHERE INSANE!

But The Shy Little Kitten? It’s just plain stupid.

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