Can one have a crush on a children’s picture book?
That seems to be the only explanation for my slightly obsessive desire to buy Here Comes the Easter Cat (Dial, 2014) for everyone I know. Each year, I get scores of books to fill my classroom library, but stories like this one stand out like gold stars.
Author Deborah Underwood has penned dozens of children’s stories. Our Hen House readers might know her best for her tale of Granny Gomez and Jigsaw, in which Granny makes the startling connection between a cute pig and bacon, and subsequently sets things right. (Take a peek at the insightful OHH interview with Underwood.)
In her latest, Here Comes the Easter Cat, she has partnered with illustrator Claudia Rueda to introduce us to Cat, a fellow who is not pleased with all the attention the Easter Bunny has been getting of late. Cat is so put out, in fact, that he devises a plan of one-upmanship so that he can deliver the Easter eggs to the children. (More on the eggs shortly.) He goes to great lengths to impress, sporting a sparkly vest and top hat, and even snagging a motorcycle so he can deliver the goodies faster than the Easter Bunny does.
Cat has barely begun his momentous trip when he stops to nap. He’s taken aback when told that the Easter Bunny never naps. (Cat has already taken seven naps that day.) While he’s pondering how to pull off this stunt with no sleep, the Easter Bunny steps onto the page and kindly hands a chocolate egg to Cat. Touched and humbled, Cat redeems himself in a most unique and winsome way.
In a playful manner that will appeal to all ages, the story reads as a conversation between the narrator and Cat. Cat takes part in this conversation by holding up funny signs with pictures on them and with a wide variety of facial expressions that communicate his feelings, ideas, and questions. (Rueda’s ability to effectively illustrate the subtle shifts in Cat’s mood is remarkable and quite charming.) The unseen narrator interprets and responds verbally, as shown in this excerpt from the opening:
What’s wrong, Cat? You look grumpy.
The Easter Bunny? What about him?
Well, of course everyone loves the Easter Bunny.
Why? Because he’s nice! He delivers chocolate eggs to millions of kids. It’s a hard job.
Don’t be jealous. Why don’t you be the Easter Cat?
Sure! You can bring the children something nice too.
This format makes reading the story aloud to your youngster a delight, and it will likely bring out your inner actor. (As a teacher, I should add that such a format greatly strengthens a child’s ability to make inferences, an important component in a young reader’s development.)
Now to address the question that is probably swimming in many heads – is a book focused on Easter eggs harmful to the millions of chickens who are suffering at this moment in the egg industry? Personally, I don’t think so. In fact, for me, this book manages to re-envision the role of eggs in this holiday in a way that allows the tradition to continue, while letting the chickens off the hook.
First, it’s worth noting that Underwood is vegan! (Insert applause and confetti throwing.) Though Here Comes the Easter Cat, like some of her other books, doesn’t include explicit animal rights messaging, she recently shared with OHH that the idea for the book came about after a colleague noted that Easter books for vegan kids were hard to find. Most Easter books, she discovered, had visuals of the characters eating ham or hard-boiled eggs. So Underwood came up with the idea of having the Easter Bunny only deliver eggs made from chocolate (presumably dark or semi-sweet, and surely fair-trade and slavery-free). In her words, Here Comes the Easter Cat is a “stealth-vegan book.” (Don’t you adore that phrase?)
I love the idea that kids can read this book without being taught to participate in cruelty, but also without having to give up the traditions connected with eggs. The egg has long been a symbol of rebirth, a common theme of spring. That the egg industry hijacks this symbolism each March and April for its own monetary gain is loathsome, to put it mildly, and it’s high time we took this symbolism back. Where animal agriculture leaders see dollar signs when an egg is laid, vegans see the cycle of life, future happy chickens, and fresh possibilities. And that’s a huge difference.
For me, this Easter bunny’s chocolate eggs and their cyclical theme call to mind that first spring day when you can bask in the warm outdoors without a jacket. Of yellow crocuses boldly peeking out of the ground and of the tantalizing smell of hyacinths in bloom. Of all those small moments that unfold each spring, yet feel surprisingly new. An egg can be a lovely symbol without oppressing anyone.
In a future world that doesn’t harm animals, I hope we still look to symbols like the egg to reflect on the idea that all good things return. We’ll just do it in a way that leaves the chickens (and their actual eggs) alone.
Here Comes the Easter Cat isn’t promoting veganism, per se, but it’s a great resource for adults who want to give the vegan children in their lives a delightful way to be included in the celebration of a holiday that has not typically been vegan-friendly. And, for that matter, it is also a terrific book to offer non-vegan kids, since endearing stories like this, which promote compassion in spades, shouldn’t be solely reserved for the pint-sized vegans among us.
Underwood is a quick-witted and talented author, and this book will soon become a beloved favorite for any child, vegan or not (yet). Everything about the tale is funny, right down to the About the Author section on the book’s jacket. (Seriously, remember to check it out.)
With Easter coming up, you’d best get your copy of Here Comes the Easter Cat today – though it’s possible that I’ll beat you to it and buy out all the copies for my family and friends. I’m just sayin’.