Review by Kaila Johnson
Candlewick Press/Penguin Random House, 2020
64 pages, Hardcover, $11.99, 9781536204278
Ages 4-8, Preschool-Grade 3
Learning to write your own story can be a fun activity or a valuable lesson. In the case of Max the dog, it saves his life.
See The Cat tells the story of Max, a dog who can talk to the writer of the book in an effort to dictate his own story. This book is split into three different stories: “See the Cat,” “See the Snake,” and “See the Dog.” These three sections flow into one another as Max’s emotions shift and, he learns how to speak up for himself.
In the first story, “See the Cat,” author David LaRochelle draws from the innate humor of being stubborn and the emotions that come with being wrong. LaRochelle writes, “‘See the blue cat in a green dress riding a pink unicorn.” Over the span of a few pages, Max gets more and more frustrated. With eyebrows and arms raised, he protests, “There is no cat! There is no dress! There is no unicorn! There is just me, MAX the DOG!” Mike Wohnoutka’s illustrations depict Max realizing he was wrong, as the blue cat riding a pink unicorn flies past Max over three pages. LaRochelle’s short, concise sentences help draw the reader’s focus to Wohnoutka’s vibrant illustrations.
Through Max’s reactions to LaRochelle’s text, the reader is brought along on the journey of their conflict. In “See the Snake,” Max goes head-to-head with a mad snake. This time, Max believes what the writer is saying. This time, LaRochelle and Wohnoutka subvert expectations by having Max write into the sentence on the page next to him, changing the outcome of his story.
Max is relaxed at last until LaRochelle writes that a hippo will sit on him after an outlandish demand. Wohnoutka’s illustrations uplift Max’s frustration off of the pages. Standing on his hind legs, Max argues with LaRochelle’s text and breaks the fourth wall: “If this hippo sits on me, I will leave this book. If I leave this book, no one will want to read it.” In the first story, Max’s stubbornness was proven wrong; in the second, Max takes agency over a dangerous situation. In this final story, both the reader’s and Max’s disbelief in LaRochelle’s text moves the reader to change LaRochelle’s mind.
With David LaRochelle’s clever text and Mike Wohnoutka’s bright, friendly illustrations working in tandem, Max’s comical misadventures in See the Cat highlight the importance of standing up for yourself and making the most of the tools available to you. Readers of all ages will enjoy this fun, fast-paced book.
Kaila Johnson is a creative writing BFA student and has contributed to UBC’s student newspaper The Ubyssey for the past three years. She loves creating stories centred around identity and community. When they’re not writing, she can be found painting, watching reality television, or saying hello to an animal nearby.