Reviews for Won Ton : A Cat Tale Told in Haiku

Booklist Reviews 2011 February #1
*Starred Review* Although the subtitle says haiku, as Wardlaw explains in her opening author's note, the poems that make up this picture-book celebration of the child-pet bond are actually written in similarly structured senryu, a form that focuses on personality and behavior instead of on the natural world, as haiku does. Here the central personality belongs to a feisty shelter cat who has never known cozy domestic life: "Nice place they got here. / Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home. / Or so I've been told." Then a boy arrives, scoops the cat from his cage, brings him home, and names him Won Ton ("How can I / be soup? Some day, I'll tell you / my real name. Maybe"). Both the tightly constructed lines and elegant, playful illustrations unerringly imagine a cat's world, including the characteristic feline seesaw between aloof independence and purring, kneading adoration. Like Bob Raczka's Guyku (2010), this title shows that poetry can be fun, free, and immediate, even as it follows traditional structure; "The Car Ride," for example, reads, "Letmeoutletme / outletmeoutletmeout. / Wait--let me back in!" Yelchin's expressive graphite-and-gouache artwork nods to the poetic form's roots with echoes of Japanese woodblock prints and creates a lovable, believable character in this wry, heartwarming title that's sure to find wide acceptance in the classroom and beyond. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2011 April
Sweet words for little readers

Here are some of our favorite new poetry books for children, selections that are bound to unleash the inner poet in even the youngest writers.

Readers of all ages will get a kick out of Bob Raczka’s clever Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word. The premise of these short, fun verses is to take a single word (such as lemonade, pepperoni or playground), and make a short poem using only the letters in that word. So, for example, a poem called “Television” consists of the lines: “set is on / i sit.”

This book will appeal to both poetry and puzzle lovers, no doubt motivating them to choose their own words and write some poems.


Over the last few years I have particularly liked books that combine poetry with nonfiction, such as Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems. This book is a visual and literary feast, with eye-catching mixed-media illustrations by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.

Each page contains this duo’s illustrations, along with one of Zimmer’s imaginative poems and a short sidebar filled with interesting elephant facts, such as the recent discovery that elephants can communicate over extremely long distances with low tones that people can’t hear, and that they can feel these tones through their feet.

Many interesting topics are addressed, including elephants’ ivory tusks, their excellent memory and the term “white elephant.” The book’s title comes from the first page, in which we learn that some cultures once believed that elephants could control the weather. This blend of poetry, nonfiction and art is literature and learning at its best.

Similarly, Amy Gibson’s Around the World on Eighty Legs contains a menagerie of animal poems, organized by continent. The book begins with a world map showing how the poems and animals are grouped, and ends with an alphabetical glossary that sums up each animal with a few defining features. Daniel Salmieri’s watercolor, gouache and colored-pencil illustrations are lighthearted and fun, filled with animals that bear many amusing facial expressions.

There’s a nice blend of familiar and exotic animals, too, from the kangaroo to the cassowary, covered nicely with Gibson’s fun, never-pedantic poems. Here, for example, are a few lines about yaks:

The yakkity yakkity yak—
Why is it the yak never answers you back?
To a yak, nothing’s worse
than to have to converse—
The yakkity yakkity yak.

Animal lovers will also enjoy Lee Wardlaw’s Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku. The book opens with a short note explaining that these verses are a form of Japanese poetry called senryu, very similar to haiku.

Wardlaw’s book is wonderfully innovative, telling a story through a series of senryu that are compelling yet quite accessible to young readers. The tale is told from the cat’s point of view, who starts out in a shelter and gets picked to go home with a family in a poem called “The Choosing.” Next, in “The Naming,” the cat hears his new moniker and proclaims:

Won Ton? How can I
be soup? Some day, I’ll tell you
my real name. Maybe.

This is a touching tale, made even more dramatic by Eugene Yelchin’s sublime illustrations, which vary on every page, adding drama, emotion, fun and beauty.

I have long been a fan of Kristine O’Connell George’s poetry collections, and her latest, Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems, is a real winner. Fourth-grader Jessica both loves and loathes her little sister Emma, and this is the essence of her “Emma Dilemma.”

Jessica voices her wide-ranging emotions through a series of poems that are spot-on for real situations and feelings, getting right at the heart of what it means to be a sister, chronicling both its delights and demons. Nancy Carpenter’s lively illustrations manage to capture every bit of the fun and fury.

There is drama here, too, when Emma tries to join Jessica and her friend in their treehouse and falls, breaking her arm, prompting guilt in Jessica that she should have been closer paying attention to Emma. Kids of all ages will be both moved and entertained by this engaging poem-story.

Lee Bennett Hopkins is another kingpin of children’s poetry, having assembled many wonderful collections over the years. His latest, I Am the Book, is a collection of poems—including one of his own—all about books and the pleasures of reading. These are fun, animated poems, such as this verse from Beverly McLoughland’s “When I Read”:

When I read, I like to dive
In the sea of words and swim
Feet kicking fast across the page
Splashing words against my skin.
The energy is enhanced with acrylics by an illustrator named Yayo, whose vibrant colors enliven every page. In the illustration for this poem, for instance, a streamlined diver plunges into a bright blue sea, which rests on top of a gigantic book, all atop a sandy yellow background.

More creative illustrations are waiting in Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines, a follow-up to her lovely A Year in Poems and Quilts. Hines’ illustrations are photographs of her own amazing, handmade quilts. And phenomenal they are, with wonderful backgrounds and vibrant colors, patterns and textures, and people, too, such as a boy in a kay[Tue Sep 2 22:47:04 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. ak or a curly-haired girl holding a butterfly.

Hines’ poems are just as wonderful and varied as her quilts, discussing peace in its many forms, whether between a hamster and a snake, siblings, schoolmates, armies or countries. There’s plenty of food for thought here, including a spread dedicated to eight peacemakers, ranging from Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to child peacemakers Samantha Smith and Mattie Stepanek.

Hines ends her book with a few pages explaining who these peacemakers are, and also discusses how she created her quilts. She relates the long history of quilt-making, storytelling and artistic and community collaboration. This is indeed a treasure trove of beauty and inspiration.


Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Fall
In a series of haiku (technically "senryu"), a cat narrates the story of his adoption from a shelter and his new life. The animal's fear, pride, and gradual trust come across clearly in Wardlaw's poems. Yelchin's graphite and gouache pictures match the poems' sensitivity and humor, with the cat's wariness giving way over time to an enjoyment of his new environment. Copyright 2011 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #2
In a series of haiku, an angular gray cat with blue eyes narrates the story of his adoption from a shelter and his new life. Technically, as the author's note at the beginning explains, these are "senryu," following the same pattern as haiku but, rather than focusing on nature, focusing on "the foibles" of human (or, in this case, cat) nature. The cat's fear, pride, and gradual trust with all its tentativeness come across clearly: at the shelter, "Latch squeaks. Door swings wide. / Free! Free at last! Yet, one claw / snags, clings to what's known." Yelchin's graphite and gouache pictures match the poems' sensitivity as well as their humor, with the cat's wariness giving way over time to an enjoyment of his new environment. Illustrations show the cat napping happily on his boy's socks, stretching luxuriously as he scratches the back of a chair, and, toward the end, draped across the boy's tummy, asleep ("Your tummy, soft as / warm dough. I knead and knead, then / bake it with a nap"). The appealing cover will help sell this funny and touching celebration of the joys of adopting a shelter cat. susan dove lempke Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 January #1

In 33 senryu (Japanese poetry similar to and derived from haiku but focusing on human—or, here, feline—foibles instead of nature), Wardlaw relates the tale of a grey shelter cat. In his cage he thinks, "Gypsy on my left. / Pumpkin, my right. Together, / we are all alone." During visiting hours one day, though he takes pains to appear disinterested, the grey cat hopes the boy who rubs his chin just right will select him. He does! And after a scary car ride comes the naming. "Buster? Bubba? SPIKE? / Great Rats! Those don't befit an / Oriental prince." Won Ton might be what the boy calls him, but he has a secret name...he won't tell just anyone. Won Ton survives new food, being catnapped and dressed up and a trip to the backyard. And he finally calls the boy's house home. Wardlaw's terse, traditional verse captures catness from every angle, while Yelchin's graphite and gouache illustrations telegraph cat-itude with every stretch and sinuous slink. Perfect pussycat poetry for anyone who has ever loved a shelter cat. (Picture book/poetry. 4-9)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection Reviews 2011 May/June
Imagine what it feels like to yearn for a home or a soft tummy to lie on. A cat journeys from a shelter across majestic terrain, experiencing fears, dust bunnies, and string-on-a-sticks. Suddenly, the cat starts to stretch its legs and grows to trust and love its new surroundings. This is a feast for the senses! Readers experience the cat's anxiety. The story fills readers with anticipation, nervousness, and the hope of being needed. This is the perfect companion to poetry month and multicultural literature. The story is told in senryu, a form of Japanese poetry similar to haiku, except the focus is on human nature rather than just a form of nature. Yelchin used graphite and gouache on watercolor paper to unite the text in literal poetry. Highly Recommended. Laura Dooley-Taylor, Library Media Specialist, Cumberland Elementary, Des Plaines, Illinois ¬ 2011 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 December #1

Wardlaw (101 Ways to Bug Your Parents) has a fine understanding of the feline mind, and each 17-syllable poem packs a big impact--especially in the first section, which imagines the emotional life of a cat in a shelter. "Visiting hours!/ Yawn. I pretend not to care./ Yet--I sneak a peek." Warily, Won Ton considers the boy who is his new owner--"Won Ton? How can I/ be soup? Some day, I'll tell you/ my real name. Maybe." In the final pages, boy and cat grow to trust each other, and Won Ton reveals his real name: "Boy, it's time you knew:/ My name is Haiku." Yelchin's (Seven Hungry Babies) sleek cat is all eyes and sharp angles. The Japanese haiku theme (technically, Wardlaw explains in a note, the poems are senryu, focusing on "the foibles of human nature") is carried through with elements and backgrounds lifted from old woodblock prints. The final page, a delicate painting of the boy nuzzling the cat, is a fitting reward for the boy's patience and Won Ton's resilience. A surprisingly powerful story in verse. Ages 4-8. (Feb.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 February

Gr 2-5--Text and illustrations work together to craft an unforgettable character in a shelter cat whose veneer of cynical toughness masks his vulnerability. As he gazes from behind the bars of his cage, he quips: "Nice place they got here./Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home!/Or so I've been told." He's adopted by a boy and his family, driven home ("letmeoutletme/outletmeoutletmeout./Wait--let me back in!"); and given a name: "Won Ton? How can I/be soup? Some day, I'll tell you/my real name. Maybe." Yelchin's superb illustrations, graphite and gouache on watercolor paper, depict an angular blue-black-haired Siamese, capturing all facets of his singular, feisty, and playful personality. Wardlaw relates his tale using a series of senryu, three unrhymed lines similar to haiku; in a note, he explains that the form focuses on "the foibles of human nature--or in this case, cat nature." The book's overall design, with text laid carefully between and around eye-catching, brilliantly composed illustrations, complements the engaging tale. Won Ton's sweetly humorous story will steal the hearts of readers young and old.--Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

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