a story to encourage new perspectives and herald the blessings of difference

We’re all different now, just like you.
— The Mayor

Sometimes our own little quirks or difficulties can be a blessing. To us and to others.

In this tremendously fun story a cute little cat with a crick in his back walks through a town, surprising people everywhere and causing them to tilt their heads as he walks past.

That simple act leads to changes in perspective, new lifestyles, decisions and even new architecture.

As the catawumpus cat benignly wanders through the town, he is unaware of the impact he is having. But that impact is so profound that the town even names a 'Catawumpus Cat Day' in honour of the difference he has made.

The Mayor tells the cat, “We’re all different now, just like you.”

At which point the cat, who has unknowingly changed the whole town, stretches and straightens and wanders out of town, 'once again uniquely catawumpus.’

There’s a certain predictability to the ending, and that's perfect for young children. After reading about unintended and unexpected consequences it creates a lovely safe space, making The Catawampus Cat a great picture book to read when a child is coming to terms with difference or difficulty.

The story carries a lovely promise that by simply engaging and being part of a community, we can make the lives of others better—even if we are a little catawumpus ourselves! It's perfect to read to a child who feels different, or who is struggling with life.

5 more times to read this book:

When you’re looking for a laugh.
There’s some pretty funny stuff happening here! There's kissing, a daredevil in a geyser and lots of cute and quirky moments to be spotted in the (very appealing) illustrations.

When you’re working on understanding perspective.
When the town takes on the cat’s tilted perspective, a whole heap of change follows. In fact, 'Everyone was happy and slanty and catawumpus.' 

For younger children this can be a great talking point for noticing life from a new angle or trying something new—and for older kids it can be a good jump-off for conversations about the value of understanding other people’s motivations, ideologies and beliefs.

When you’re thinking about tipping points.
When a ‘slightly askew’ cat arrives in the town everyone is busy and the cat wanders around —the townspeople have no idea that life is about to change in dramatic ways. The first people to notice the cat (Mr Grouse the grocer and his wife, Lydia) try to straighten him up, but quickly find themselves tilting to match him. And so it goes through the town until the entire population is embracing the catawumpus life.

That’s pretty much the way tipping points work—first they’re unnoticed, then someone tries to put things back to 'right', then before you know it the whole world has tilted.

When you feel like there’s a bit too much trend-following happening.
The whole town ends up catawumpus simply because a cat with a crick in its back wanders through. Lots of good flowed from that: 'Some people began to talk. … They spotted prized possessions they thought they’d never see again. And rediscovered old friends they thought they’d never know again.' New trends can be like that—heaps of fun, great for shaking up mind sets, even inspiring and motivating. Still, it might be worth thinking about the foundations of a trend before wholeheartedly embracing it!

When you’re encouraging someone young to embrace the unexpected.
There’s a brilliant and suspenseful moment when the town barber snips a woman’s hair on a catawumpus angle. The barber’s face when the woman exclaims, “I love it!” is so good! He's everyone who has ever made a big mistake and is hoping for the best. (I especially love that the woman is reading a hair magazine with an angled fringe on the cover while the barber snips.)

The story is full of life-changing moments that follow a mistake: a mistakenly grabbed book that inspires life changes, a memory-inducing find that rekindles romance ... and more.

There's a lot of fun to be had from reading this book—from the play on word names (like Miss Reade the librarian) through to the details tucked into the illustrations (like the few townspeople who are already catawumpus even though they are just going about their day).

It's the kind of story that can easily become part of what informs a child’s life. I’m sure you’ll love it.

(Also ... when Jesse read this to her little kids at school they wanted to know what ‘awumpus’ meant. So just in case you’re looking for a formal explanation—catawumpus means askew or positioned diagonally.) 

Names in this book – Lydia, Bob

by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by Gus Gordon – Penguin Viking, 2017
ages 2 to 8 years / picture books + emotional resilience, funny

Amazon  -  Book Depository

Book Depository has free postage anywhere in the world and great pricing, but Amazon might be cheaper for North American readers.

P.S. If you’re looking for other stories with a similar message try The Hueys by Oliver Jeffers and I Am Henry Finch.