Is the cat really a cat?
A large rat lurks behind a tree, spying on three anthropomorphic mice children as they scamper to their one-room schoolhouse, each carrying a block of cheese for their teacher. As the teacher instructs them in “Today’s Lesson: Recognizing DANGER”—in this case, recognizing cats—the students look respectively bored, surprised, and worried. Only several beats after the figure of a cat creeps through the window of the schoolroom does the teacher relinquish the lesson to chaos, shouting “A CAT!” and fleeing the scene in distress along with the students. As the “cat” turns its zippered back to readers, the text asks a good question: “IS this a cat?” Readers who remember the rat will know the answer. Only when an actual cat makes a cameo at the end is there any hint of a true surprise, but it is unclear if readers are meant to laugh at or be alarmed by the implication that the cat has consumed the rat, who only ever wanted cheese in the first place. The clear lines, bright colors, and cartoonish feel of the illustrations may appeal to at least some of the book’s intended audience, but the gag is both drawn out too long and not particularly funny. Moreover, for readers who must endure heightened school security against violent intruders, the attempt at comedy may fall particularly flat.
A stale, unfunny tale of duped mice unprepared for a world with predators. (Picture book. 3-6)