December 11, 2010
Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River
Cat Pals at Center of Charming Children’s Book
Gretchen Preston’s Valley Cats is the fun and adventurous story of Boonie and River, two cats who first meet during a parade and quickly become close friends. Boonie is a bit more daring than River, who is not allowed to leave his yard, but soon Boonie convinces River he can get the trust of his mistress so they can have adventures.
Those adventures happen in the Valley where Boonie and River live, as well as the surrounding areas of their Upper Michigan home. Author Gretchen Preston based the story upon people and cats she knows in her Michigan home, but readers from any location will enjoy reading these stories. Boonie and River are characters children will love—especially cat lovers. They are reminiscent of characters in earlier friend books for children like the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel, but the book is more in-depth, with full length chapters, each being in itself a separate story about one of the Valley Cats’ adventures.
The adventures include exploring the outdoors during the winter, visiting a cave at Broken Indian Rock along Lake Superior, and a rainy day picnic, as well as some bathroom antics when the Valley Cats are cooped inside the house in winter. The stories are visual and the reader will follow the action without any trouble, yet the gorgeous illustrations by Karin Neumann provide an added dimension to the stories. These watercolor pencil drawings are brightly colored to attract children, but adults will also be stunned by how perfectly Neumann captures not just the charm of the cats and the story, but the shadows of trees on the snow, the evening sunset, and the humor and sadness—all the emotions and tone—of the story.
Besides simply being a fun read, Valley Cats is an educational experience for children. One story encompasses the death of a family pet which may help children relate to and understand death. Other stories highlight the outdoors and read almost like educational field trips. Preston includes a glossary of terms at the book’s end for young readers, with such words as “fire circle,” “Ojibwa,” and “zucchini.” Children from about 3rd to 5th grade will most enjoy this book, but it also works well as a read-aloud book for younger children, and even adult readers will greatly appreciate the humor and the gentle tone of the stories.
Although I’m an adult, and I have no children, Valley Cats was a true pleasure for me to read. It not only made me laugh and smile and marvel over the stunning illustrations, but it brought back feelings of my own childhood and fond memories of my own favorite illustrated stories like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and the George and Martha stories of James Marshall—the books that first made me love to read and ultimately led to my becoming an author. I have no doubt young children will find that Valley Cats will have a similar magical effect upon them.
For more information about author Gretchen Preston, illustrator Karin Neumann, and Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River visit www.prestonhillpress.com, and watch for Preston’s next Valley Cats book.— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., and author of the award-winning Narrow Lives
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