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.
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.
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.
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!”
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
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!
You can find How to Draw a Happy Cat at these booksellers
To support your local independent bookstore, order from
Picture Book Review