Written by Andy Griffiths; Illustrated by Terry Denton
166 pages, Square Fish
Review by Melissa Conway
When I first read The Cat on the Mat is Flat, I was certain it was proof positive that anyone can write and illustrate a children’s book. The drawings are childish stick figures and the poems are clearly written to make use of rhyme with little attempt at making sense.
This would mean something only if my seven-year-old son didn’t like it. We read it together this morning and I asked him what he thought at the end. “Good,” he said, nodding enthusiastically. Appalled, I asked him what part he liked best and he said, “All of it.”
I’m pretty sure we both read the same book. He was sitting right next to me in my chair. I almost lost my eyeballs somewhere in my skull I rolled them so often, but he smiled ear-to-ear through the whole chaotic thing.
The book has nine poems with titles like “Ed and Ted and Ted’s Dog Fred,” and “Duck in a Truck in the Muck.” Each one is spread out over several pages. Here’s a couple of excerpts:
“‘Alas! Alack!’ said Harry Black.
‘I cannot give that yak a whack!
Or he’ll attack me with that tack!’”
“‘My cog is faster
than your boggy old log,’
said the dog on a cog
to the frog on a log.”
In the first example, we’ve got Harry Black walking along with a huge sack on his back filled with a snack, see. (For an idea of the quality of the drawings, think of Spongebob’s nemesis in the episode ‘Doodlebob.’) And a yak named Jack comes along to steal the snack while Harry Black is taking a nap in a haystack. You know what? Never mind about the second example; it’s just as inane. There’s a plenty of cartoon violence, kersplatting with bats, growling and head-biting, falling off cliffs, almost drowning, being swallowed by a whale, and that’s just in the first two poems.
My son picked up Cat/Mat/Flat at the bookstore because of the big wild lettering on the front promising a crazy read. I didn’t notice the wording in a blurb by the School Library Journal on the back indicating that this was a book intended for ‘beginning or reluctant readers,’ neither of which describes my son. There’s nothing elsewhere, on the cover or inside, confirming that the book is intended for those sorts of readers, but I agree that most of the words are appropriate for intermediate beginners. And sure, I can see that today’s reluctant reader, who probably prefers a steady bombardment of cartoon mayhem over books, might require a special sort of insanity for a book to hold their attention.
It nagged at me all day that my son could find this book just as amusing as, say, a Jack Prelutsky. After pondering it, I finally realized why. My son has written poems that are similar in nature, and his drawings are on a par with those in Cat/Mat/Flat. The appeal is in the very childishness of it all. That perspective brought me to the conclusion that it takes a special brilliance to reach a kid by talking to him on his own level.
Not just anyone can write and illustrate such a children’s book.