by Nick Bruel
125 pages, Square Fish (an imprint of MacMillan)
Review by Melissa Conway
It’s a blustery Sunday, and rather than subject myself to another day stuck inside with my hurricane of a seven year-old, I took him to the bookstore. He’s at that age where even though he reads a few grades ahead of his class, he still likes pictures with his text. The title of Nick Bruel’s book ‘Bad Kitty Gets a Bath,’ immediately attracted him. We have a dog and a cat, neither of whom are particularly well-behaved. My son gets into his share of trouble too, so he gets a perverse pleasure out of seeing our pets (his ‘siblings’) get busted. On Bad Kitty’s back cover is a cute cartoon drawing of a cat, followed by a plus sign, a dripping water faucet, an equal sign, and a nuclear mushroom cloud. Although my son has never been witness to our cat being bathed (we spared him the trauma), the implication was that the bad kitty in question was about to be treated to some kind of punishment. Pet, plus punishment, equaled my son’s interest, so he opened the book and began laughing like a loon two pages in.
He continued reading Bad Kitty in the truck on the way home, and finished it over the next hour while crammed in next to me (and my laptop) in the La-Z-Boy. Being settled with his mommy in the chair, despite closer and closer quarters the older he gets (ha, and as middle-age spread settles onto me), is his favorite place to be. Whether he’s playing his Nintendo DS (“Mom! Help me kill this guy!”) or watching cartoons (“Mom! Lookit!”) or reading (“Mom! Listen to this!”), you can imagine I don’t get a lot of writing done. I’m under constant bombardment of Mom!Mom!Mom! But the number of times he calls my attention to something is generally an accurate barometer of how much he’s enjoying it.
Bad Kitty may have set some kind of Mom! record. And despite my many entreaties that he do so silently, he insisted on reading the whole book out loud, including sound-effects. (Well, I had to help him on occasion there. I heard him reading, “Eff. Eff. Tee. Eff. Eff. Tee,” and when I looked to see what on earth he was doing, I saw he was reading the letters off instead of mimicking a kitty spitting in anger, “FFT! FFT!”)
You might not think there’s enough material on the subject of giving a cat a bath to write an entire book. You’d be wrong. Author and illustrator Bruel does a fine, funny job stretching it out. First he demonstrates how kitty normally bathes herself. Then we’re treated to several hysterical panels of kitty hacking up a fur ball (this is the part that hooked my son, and me, to be honest). Then kitty gets chased by doggy and gets filthy, followed by a surprising number of pages dedicated to explaining to the reader how very, very, very, very, ad nauseum much cats hate baths. They really do. (No, really.)
The actual bath itself, where Bruel depicts kitty being subjected to the worst form of feline indignity and torture, with an instantaneous unequal and similar reaction, captures the event perfectly. (I make this assertion from what I can recall of the experiences I’ve suffered through. Other than the visible scars, I’ve blanked the worst bits out of my mind—probably to protect my cat from unconscious retaliation—similar to forgetting the pain of childbirth so the species will survive).
When I told my son I wanted to write a review of the book for Booksquawk, he watched as I googled Nick Bruel. On the author’s website, we read that Bad Kitty had been awarded a 2009 GRYPHON HONOR for transitional reading by THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS at the UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS. Of course my son had no idea what that meant, but he waved the book in my face and exclaimed, “Oh, my! This was awarded!”
Then he said, “Mom! Put down Bruel’s Bad Kitty Books,” which I took to mean he wanted me to jot down a note to purchase more of Bruel’s stories. So I did.