October 4 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of How to Draw a Happy Cat

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Thank you to Hippo Park and Deborah Sloan for sharing a copy of How to Draw a Happy Cat with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

How to Draw a Happy Cat

Written by Ethan T. Berlin | Illustrated by Jimbo Matison

 

As the book opens, an unseen art teacher enthusiastically instructs kids in creating a cat. And not just any cat, but one that will be smiling at the end: “Learning how to draw a happy cat is fun and easy!” The narrator lays out clear instructions and gives an example of how the initial shape and each new addition should look. By the end of the first page spread, kids have a striped yellow cat with eyes, nose, and violet ears but no…mouth. On the page turn, the narrator prompts kids to add a smile. But wait! That smile doesn’t last long. On the next page she’s frowning. “What do you think she wants?” the instructor asks.

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Image copyright Jimbo Matison, 2022, text copyright Ethan T. Berlin, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

The narrator makes some suggestions: “…a cool T-shirt, …a stuffy,” and “Oh, I know—a skateboard!” These items too are sketched out as examples. And, yeah! The cat is “totally happy now!” This happy cat has some moves on the skateboard too. Her wide smile just shows how happy she is. Even the unicorn on her T-shirt is grinning. But the stuffy? He’s looking a little glum and it brings down the whole vibe. Happy Cat is no longer happy.

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Image copyright Jimbo Matison, 2022, text copyright Ethan T. Berlin, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

The instructor seems to know what’s needed and suggests readers “draw her some friends! And a ramp!” Now that’s more like it! A four-legged alien-type guy, a chicken, and a dog make very happy friends. So they’re soaring into the air off the ramp on their skateboards and… Oh no! You know—what goes up must come down. Suddenly, Cat is afraid. Down, down they begin to fall. What can readers do?

Quick as you can say “airplane,” readers can help a winged and propellered rescue appear. Phew! Now they’re all happy again. Turns out, though, that skateboarding on a plane whips up quite an appetite, and now Cat is hungry. How can readers help? Well, wouldn’t a slice of pizza taste delicious? Kids learn how to draw a pizzeria and a cheesy slice, but delivery? That could be a problem. 

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Image copyright Jimbo Matison, 2022, text copyright Ethan T. Berlin, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

Cat has an idea, and while it works… it kinda, also…doesn’t. Now Cat and her friends are falling once again. Luckily readers are right there to remedy the situation, and all turns out great. So great that Cat and her friends want to celebrate. They can’t do it without decorations, music, entertainment, and some really cool hats, though, so it’s up to readers to create the most awesome party ever to “draw a happy cat!”

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Image copyright Jimbo Matison, 2022, text copyright Ethan T. Berlin, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

Starting out with a straightforward drawing lesson, Ethan T. Berlin and Jimbo Matison soon raise the stakes for readers by putting them in charge of pleasing this mercurial cat. Berlin’s enthusiastic narrator makes helpful suggestions throughout the story that prompt kids to use their natural creativity to make Cat happy while Matison actually teaches them how an artist or cartoonist puts together shapes to draw a vast array of characters, objects, moods, and action.

On top of this, Berlin’s rollercoaster story will have kids giggling on every page, and well-placed questions get them thinking about how happiness can turn to sadness or dissatisfaction (for Cat as well as themselves) in the blink of an eye (or the turn of a page) and how those moments can be turned around or amended. The story’s last line gives readers an opportunity to start all over again—or, now that they’ve got the skills, even come up with their own story to write and illustrate.

Matison’s cartoon characters (sometimes charmingly colored outside the lines) are energetic and optimistic, reveling in new playthings, friends, and experiences. Kids will love watching for Chicken’s reactions, one funny placement of a pizza slice, and a few mishaps that foreshadow the book’s cyclical ending. Colorful type highlights strong emotions, especially when Cat is happy.

Sure to make kids laugh and get excited about writing and drawing as well as providing an organic way to talk about emotions and ways to create your own happiness, How to Draw a Happy Cat makes a terrific addition to home bookshelves as a favorite story time read and go-to book for impromptu drawing fun. The book is highly recommended for school and public library collections, where it will certainly enjoy frequent rotation and its multiple layers inspire participatory programs.

Ages 4 – 8 

Hippo Park, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662640049

Discover more about Ethan T. Berlin and his books, TV shows, and other funny stuff on his website.

To learn more about Jimbo Matison, his books, design work, and TV shows, visit his website.

Laugh—or commiserate—along with this How to Draw a Happy Cat book trailer! 

How to Draw a Happy Cat Book Birthday Activity

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Pizza Party Board Game and Drawing Kit

 

Can you make Cat and her friends happy by getting them to the pizza party? Just pick your character, draw numbers to move around the board—and have some fun on the way! Play the game with your friends and then learn how to draw a happy chicken by downloading the How to Draw a Happy Cat Activity Kit from Hippo Park!

How to Draw a Happy Cat Activity Kit

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You can find How to Draw a Happy Cat at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 20 – It’s a Book Birthday Party for Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

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About the Holiday

Today, I’m celebrating the book birthday of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! with two holidays – Read a New Book Month and Friendship Month. I also have amazing interviews with author Jamie Michalak and illustrator Sabine Timm that really dive into the creation of this unique book. So, come on in!

Thanks go to Hippo Park and Deborah Sloan for sharing a copy of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

Written by Jamie Michalak | Illustrated by Sabine Timm

 

Kids first meet the sweet lemon (yes, an adorably sweet lemon) at the center of this story peeking out from a cutout in the cover. The narrator, having revealed that “there’ a party in this book,” now invites Lemon to find it: “Come on, Lemon! Let’s go look.” So, a little uncertainly, Lemon knocks at a red door with a mouse door knocker. Once inside, Lemon, readers, and the narrator meet a jaunty cast of characters—suspender shorts atop three pillows, a paint-tube mouse on a bed, a curious sock on the top of a bunkbed, and a little pink-and-green house on more pillows.

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

The scene sets Lemon and crew wondering… “Is this a mouse party? A pants, sock, and house party?” And the answer? “No! This is a game where we can’t touch the floor.” Ah! So the narrator says, “Lemon, keep looking. Try the next door.” Lemon tries another house, but there’s no party there either—just some fashionable cats and fruit.

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

Hmmm… Lemon is getting a little discouraged. But the narrator gives Lemon a nudge, saying “This book is not done.” Although Lemon meets a group of friends at the beach, they’re not partying, just hanging out together. Lemon meets some pigeons and enters a kitchen, where a bear, a bunny, and a little toast dog made of bread are baking up treats. But there’s no party! Finally, “…Lemon’s back home. Does the book end right here, with her sad and alone?”

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

But then Lemon has an idea! An idea that needs readers’ help to succeed! Lemon (and readers) are going to host the party for everyone they’ve met! There’s going to be cake and candy, decorations and games. “This is a big and a small, / have a ball party. / Hooray for new friends at the / come one and all party!” And what about readers? Everyone shouts, “Come on in!”

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

Kids can’t help but get excited about joining Lemon in searching for the party promised on the cover. Jamie Michalak’s enthusiastic, inclusive storytelling speaks directly to them from the very first words as she exclaims “What?! There’s a party in this book?” As Lemon goes from door to door and page to page, readers follow, carried along on Michalak’s buoyant rhythm and rhymes that surprise—coming at the ends of lines but also sometimes in the middle, which keeps each page fresh and fun. 

When Lemon returns home after not finding the party and hits upon the idea of being the one to host it, the promise that “there’s a party inside” is fulfilled in an unexpected way. An interactive page gets readers involved in the party preparations and will make them feel both included and empowered to invite others to their own party—or just to make new friends. 

Sabine Timm’s illustrations, created with found objects, burst with childlike imagination and endearing personalities. Each page is a showstopper that kids and adults will want to explore together to soak up all the details. And you don’t have to stop there! Each character—from Lemon to the yarn cat and clothespin rabbit to the paintbrush dog and soccer-loving log boy (see Sabine’s answer to question 2 in her interview below)—offers up an opportunity for readers to have fun creating their backstories, imagining what they’re doing when Lemon first encounters them, and guessing what their favorite part of the party is. But wait! The party isn’t over yet! The front and back endpapers, full of tiny objects from the story, give families a super search-and-find game to do together.

Full of humor, whimsy, imagination, and the joys of inclusive friendship. Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! will quickly become a family favorite to read again and again. The book would make a terrific gift and one you’ll want in your home, school, or public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Hippo Park, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662640001

Meet Jamie Michalak

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Jamie Michalak is a children’s book writer, who loves toast, dogs, and toast shaped like dogs. She is the author of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! illustrated by Sabine Timm. Jamie’s other titles include the multiple starred reviewed Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, co-written with Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Yuko Kato-Jones; Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; the Frank and Bean early reader series, illustrated by Bob Kolar, and the Joe and Sparky early readers series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. She lives with her family in Rhode Island.

You can connect with Jamie Michalak on her website | Instagram | Twitter

This story feels so fresh—whimsical, comical, and surprising.  I’d love to have you talk about how your story came to be and your writing process for it.

Thank you! Long ago, I jotted down the title and idea for this story—an interactive picture book with a different party on every page that the reader was invited to join. But I never wrote it. Several years later, my agent, Victoria Wells Arms, told me that editor Jill Davis was looking for a manuscript for artist Sabine Timm. So I checked out Sabine’s irresistible art on Instagram.

I instantly fell in love with her characters and wanted to write a story that included as many of them as possible. That’s when my old idea for COME ON IN; THERE’S A PARTY IN THIS BOOK! came to mind. I wrote the story and threw a party for Sabine’s characters—cats wearing boots and fruits dressed in suits, pigeons named Fred, and dogs made of bread. As it turns out, this party was just waiting for the right guests to get it started!

The idea of anthropomorphizing everyday objects is so interesting, especially as it’s a practice universal to adults and kids. As a storyteller, do you think this is just part of human nature or do we learn it in childhood?

That’s a fascinating question! I’m not sure. But I do love how children and children book creators are always turning inanimate objects into characters. A hot dog and baked bean can be new friends who form a band called The Chili Dogs. Or the salt and pepper shakers might face off in a talent competition before dinner arrives. Life is more interesting when you use your imagination.

The story lends itself so well to the “search and find” fun of Sabine’s illustrations. Was this also part of your intention as you crafted the story?

It wasn’t, but you’re right! I discovered all of the seek-and-find elements, just like readers will, when I first saw Sabine’s illustrations. There are so many whimsical details that I spot new ones with every read.

Every page is so creatively put together, but do you have a favorite spread in the book?

The cats wearing boots spread is one of my favorites from any picture book ever. How did Sabine create a cat from a small ball of yarn and sassy plastic doll boots? I mean … the BEST!

What would you like kids to take away from the story?

Everyone is invited to this book’s party—and that’s what makes the last spreads, starring all of the characters, the most joyful of all. I hope that readers take away that parties are more fun when no one is left out.

Do you have any special events or other marketing planned that you’d like to tell readers about?

Here’s a video “Welcome to Sabine Timm’s Studio” that introduces readers to Sabine Timm and Lemon. Then Sabine gives a tutorial on how they can make a character of their own. a link to a video “Welcome to Sabine Timm’s Studio – the illustrator of COME ON IN.”

And here’s a short bit of animation showing closeups of the objects that make up the book cover.

What’s up next for you?

I’m excited about several books coming out next year. The first is a picture book about a tiny treasure hunt set in a Parisian bookshop: DAKOTA CRUMB AND THE SECRET BOOKSHOP illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Candlewick Press). It’s the follow-up to DAKOTA CRUMB: TINY TREASURE HUNTER about an Indiana Jones-ish mouse. The third Frank and Bean early reader, FRANK AND BEAN: THE STINKY FEET MONSTER, illustrated by Bob Kolar (Candlewick Press), is a hilarious take on Bigfoot. And two Chicken Soup for the Soul for Kids books—THE SUNSHINE GARDEN, illustrated by Jenna Nahyun Chung, and PLAYDATE (WITH BEAR TOO?), illustrated by Katie Mazeika—will be released from Charlesbridge.

Thanks, Jamie, for taking time to chat with me todat! Finding new book of yours is always a reason to celebrate! 

Meet Sabine Timm

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Sabine Timm calls herself an artist, creator, beach-trash collector, flea-market lover, and photographer. She draws, paints, assembles and shares her work nonstop on Instagram. She lives in Dusseldorf Germany, but has fans from around the globe.

You can connect with Sabine Timm on Facebook | Instagram

Hi Sabine! I’m so thrilled to have a chance to talk with you about your incredible illustrations! As your 168K Instagram followers would, I’m sure, agree, your adorable creations are not only awe-inspiring but always bring a smile. Can you tell readers how you got started doing this kind of art?

It’s hard to say when I started making art like this. I always had a big interest in playing with found objects. When I was a child, I collected various things from nature. Shreds, sticks, seeds, buttons I’ve found on the streets etc.

I always loved the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and I was very much inspired by the hidden life of things in his stories. Many years later when I became a mother myself we had holidays at the sea and me and my son made a beach walk. We found a lot of funny things…a broken flip-flop, a red-checked French-fries bag, sandblasted wood sticks, small rope pieces, bottle caps, shells, feathers, and stuff like this.

Together we started playing, and we made characters from this found trash. We transformed trash to treasures…through our eyes and visions the things got a second life. I was deeply fascinated by these experiences, and I continued in arranging and photographing characters like this.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

When you look at an object, do you immediately see its potential to become something else? I’m thinking of the sofa you made from crackers that appeared on your Instagram page recently.

When I work with found or everyday objects there two options. Sometimes the objects themselves are attractive (colour, shape, size) and while looking at these things I get an inspiration. For example, the Swedish bread that became an upholstered sofa.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

The other option is that I have the plan of creating a special character and I go around in my home or in my studio and look around for something that works.

I always try to look at the things around me with the eyes of a child. Forgetting about function and use, I enjoy playing and arranging.

For example the little tree trunk character from the book….I found the miniature soccer shoes at the flea market and I came back to my studio where I had a box with collected objects from nature. I immediately had the idea of a little tree trunk boy who loves playing soccer!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Come On In! is your debut picture book. What were your first impressions when you read Jamie’s manuscript?

I was totally thrilled!!! All my characters united in such a wonderful story! When I read the lovely text for the first time I could hardly believe that Jamie has never been in my studio.

She pictured everything so detailed and gripping. Jamie wrote a charming story of cohesion and team spirit. I love the rhymes and the imaginative language.

I’m so happy to have in Jamie an author who empathizes so much with my characters. Come on In! invites everyone to have a great time together, and I was inspired from the first moment! 

Your scenes in Come On In! are beyond adorable. Can you share a little bit about your process in creating them?

So let’s go into my studio . . .

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Here I will show you something about my working process. In the very first beginnings of this book, I started with sketches and scribbles to get an idea of the story and the characters.

When I want to build and arrange a scene, I usually start with the characters! When they “come to life“ I start playing and letting them interact with each other. I take a lot of test photos to see how it works.

Next step is building the background or finding the location. In the case of a cardboard background I recycle used boxes and cut them into the right size. I cut out windows and build doors and in the end I paint. 

When I just have to find a nice location, I pack all my utensils and my camera. I never go out before checking the weather forecast (no rain and wind, please)!

For example, the scenery with the pigeons is arranged on my studio rooftop even though I had built a nice cardboard roof, but it didn’t work as I imagined. I changed my plans and placed all the pigeons on the real rooftop…this was an authentic and perfect place for a crazy party with sunflower seed snacks and drinks and music! Adding these kind of items is like the icing on the cake!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Did you have a favorite part of the story to create an assemblage for? What made it stand out for you?

It’s hard to make a decision…each assemblage is unique and special.

Creating the characters of fruits and bread was a great fun. Working with edible materials is particularly appealing to me—it is easy to get and you can eat it up when the work is done. (I have to say…sometimes I can’t eat them when they are looking at me so sweetly.)

For the kitchen scene, I was so happy that I could use my lovely vintage furnishings I’d collected for my photo arrangements years before.

I found the perfect buns and cakes to assemble the characters—Mr. Bear looked like a fantastic pastry chef and little bunny girl in her crunchy dress was so photogenic! Very same with the fruits-in-suits scene—in the beginning there is just a bag with fruits and vegetables, and after a few hours you have a gallery of fruity friends!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

What are you hoping to inspire in readers with your illustrations?

I hope I can inspire the readers to realise that the best thing in life is coming together, having a good time, respecting each other, and celebrating the uniqueness of each being.

Lemon takes the initiative, and I hope she will empower the readers to do the same.

What would you like for children to take away from your illustrations in this book?

Children are so creative, and I would like for my illustrations to encourage them to play with anything they find around at home, in nature. or wherever. They don’t need to buy new and expensive Playmobil or Lego figures…just a lemon can become a friend.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Thanks, Sabine, for sharing so much of your creative process and all of these images! I’m sure readers are excited to read the book—and to stretch their creativity! I wish you all the best with Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

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You can find Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review