Tuesday, July 3

Clarence the Copy Cat

by Patricia Lakin
Illustrated by John Manders
Dragonfly/Random House 2007

Clarence the cat comes from a long line of proud mousers, but Clarence refuses to carry on the family business. Shamed and shunned his reputation precedes him as he is sent from restaurant and deli, rejected for failing to live up to the expectations others have of a cat with his lineage.

One day Clarence finds himself on the stoop of a building where instead of being sent away he is brought inside. The building is quiet and filled with books: Clarence has been adopted by a library! Fascinated by his new surroundings Clarence spends his days perched atop the copy machine watching people come and go, gaining the name Copy Cat in the process.

Things seem to be going well until the day a mouse appears. Panicked that he may have lost his new home Clarence attempts to prevent the mouse from returning by using library books to block mouse holes along the baseboards. "Mice eat paper, you know," Clarence's new owner reports and it's only a matter of time before Clarence fears he'll be back out on the street.

Then, as a mouse is scurries across the floor causing havoc in the library, Clarence finds himself unable to get any traction on the glass top of the copy machine while blinding lights flash in his eyes. After it appears that the mouse has finally vacated the premises Clarence discovers that all those lights were the copy machine making larger-than-life prints of his frightening face, and those images fell to the floor under the machine where they surely scared off any mice who might have entertained entering the library.

It's a happy ending for all as Clarence takes up his spot in the sunny window at the library, finally at home.

Yeah, I like this. And 90% of why I like this is because of the illustrations. Manders illustrates with a verve in his lines and humor in the expressive movement of his characters. There is a looseness in his style but it doesn't come across as sloppy or unfinished. I couldn't help but feel like this is the sort of book an animator would draw in his time off a la Bill Peet, though I found no information on Manders having ever worked in cartoons. He's illustrated over a dozen titles and written none of them, which sort of makes me glad because I would hate to discover that he was another illustrator who needed to be filed in the "better seen and not heard" category.

What about Lakin's story? Serviceable. I think the copy machine solution is clumsy at best and we never really understand whether Clarence is afraid of mice or doesn't believe in harming other living things, which makes him just shy of endearing. Kudos to the editor who matched Manders up with Lakin because I think this book was made entirely in the illustrations, by the lines rather than between them.

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