January 2021

January 2021

Katie the CatSitter cover imageBig Picture

Katie the Catsitter

by Colleen AF Venable
illustrated by Stephanie Yue; colors by Braden Lamb

Twelve-year-old New Yorker Katie is heartbroken that she’s missing out on a summer at camp—again. How could she possibly go, when her mom’s waitress salary can’t cover even one week of the multi-grand tuition? When her camp-going bestie Bethany suggests she save up for just one week of camp, Katie concocts a plan, offering to help her neighbors with any side gig they might have. Katie’s odd-job crusade is off to a bumpy start as she kills the plants she’s tasked with watering and breaks Mr. Quinn’s eggs when helping him carry his groceries. Then the mysterious Ms. Lang from Apartment 5B asks her to catsit, and Katie’s luck begins to change . . . for the worse. Ms. Lang’s clowder of 217 feisty and unnaturally gifted felines might not be worth what Katie is earning (even if Katie is spared scooping 200 litter boxes due to the cats’ being toilet trained), and the critters seem oddly interested in news reports about the dreaded Mousetress, NYC’s most feared supervillain. It doesn’t help that the masked malefactor bears a resemblance to Ms. Lang, nor that the nocturnal ne’er-do-well seems to commit her crimes during the evenings that Katie is catsitting. As the rodentian wrongdoer exposes dog-fighting tycoons, poachers, and vivisectionists, though, Katie wonders if the Mousetress might not be such a bad gal after all.

Venable’s middle-grade debut, the first in a new graphic novel series, will likely appeal to cat lovers as well as to caped crusaders, as most of the action centers on Katie’s trials with the cunning cats. There’s more to this tale than purrs and superheroism, though. Bethany’s time at camp brings about changes that leave Katie behind metaphorically as well as physically: Bethany’s suddenly interested in boys and uninterested in stickers, and she’s recast herself into embracing of a once-hated nickname (“BETH?!” Katie gasps in shock at her friend’s new signoff). Venable’s address of the woes of limited income is useful but occasionally too subtle, so aware readers may wonder how supposedly broke Katie and her mom can afford to live in the same building as the posh Ms. Lang. Still, less well-off readers are sure to relate to Katie’s camp cost struggles, and the threat of friends growing out of their relationships over the long summer is frustratingly real. Thankfully, however, so are kids’ abilities to bounce back from change, such as Katie does when she meets endearingly awkward skater-girl Marie, who is sure to serve as a new bestie in subsequent volumes.

Yue’s digital art is cartoonish and appealing, with most detail going to the swarm of cats and their wild personalities. Realism and absurdity snuggle harmoniously, with such delightful dichotomies as grumpy moggy Moritz knocking over glasses as calico Jolie plays MMORPGs while donning enormous headphones. Yue’s designs also provide plenty of diversity, including hijab-sporting classmates, biracial Bethany, and dark-skinned Ms. Lang. Feminist overtones easily float throughout, the most poignant being the overly curvaceous femme fatale portrayal the media paints of the Mousetress, one that is completely at odds with the sensible flat boots and utilitarian gear worn by the real “villainess.”

Ultimately, this is plain, fluffy fun, a pro-girl comic to encourage adventure, entrepreneurship, and excellent, pun-filled pet names. End matter includes creator bios, a guide to saying “Meow” in different languages (courtesy of language expert cat Gracie), and an alphabetical line-up of Cat Benatar, Pierogi, and the rest of the kitty crew.
Kiri Palm, Reviewer

Image from Katie the Catsitter © 2021 by Colleen AF Venable, reproduced by permission of Random House.

Hand-drawn image of a five-point starStars

Starred titles are books of special distinction. See the archives for selections from previous months.

Bertrand, LynneCity of the Uncommon Thief. Dutton, 2021 [400p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780525555322 $19.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780525555339 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys                                          R* Gr. 9-12

Browne, Mahogany L.Chlorine Sky. Crown, 2021 [192p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593176399 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593176412 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys     R* Gr. 7-10

de la Peña, MattMilo Imagines the World; illus. by Christian Robinson. Putnam, 2021 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780399549083 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780399549090 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys     R* 5-8 yrs

Grimes, NikkiLegacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance; illus. by Vanessa Brantley Newton, Cozbi Cabrera, Nina Crews, et al. Bloomsbury, 2021 [144p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781681199443 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781681199450 $13.29
Reviewed from digital galleys     R* Gr. 5-9

Lesperance, NicoleThe Wide Starlight. Razorbill, 2021 [320p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593116227 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593116234 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys     R* Gr. 7-10

Quang, Phùng NguyênMy First Day; written and illus. by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huy`nh Kim Liên. Make Me a World/Random House, 2021 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593306260 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593306284 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys     R* 5-8 yrs

Stead, Philip C.Follow That Frog!; illus. by Matthew Cordell. Porter/Holiday House, 2021 [32p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780823444267 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780823448944 $11.99
Reviewed from digital galleys     R* 5-8 yrs

Szabo, RoseWhat Big Teeth. Farrar, 2021 [400p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780374314309 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780374314316 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys     R* Gr. 8-12

Walker, Landry Q.Pepper Page Saves the Universe!: The Infinite Adventures of Supernova;
by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones; illus. by Eric Jones. First Second, 2021
(The Infinite Adventures of Supernova)
Trade ed. ISBN 9781250216915 $22.99
Paper ed. ISBN 9781250216922 $14.99
Reviewed from digital galleys     R* Gr. 4-8

Williams, Alicia D.Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher
Zora Neale Hurston; illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara. Dlouhy/Atheneum, 2021 [48p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781534419131 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781534419148 $10.99