Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review - What Cats Are Made Of

For quite a while now I've been crazy for posts that feature dogs, such as those from Susan Taylor Brown, Barbara O'Connor (Greetings From Nowhere), and Kirby Larson (Kirby's Lane). But what's an avowed dog lover to do when someone like Anna Alter (Painting Bunnies) begins a series of posts called Furball Friday? I am not a cat lover by any means, but for all my cat-loving friends and readers I offer this review of a book I never would have expected to so thoroughly enjoy.
What Cats are Made Of, written and illustrated by Hanoch Piven, is a cleverly crafted book that highlights a few of the known cat breeds while offering a bevy of feline facts. This is as much an "art" book as it is a nonfiction work on cats.

First, a disclaimer. If you are looking for a straight cat information book, this isn't the book for you. It is, however, the perfect introduction for those who don't know much about cats (like me). This is also not a book that provides photos or life-like drawings of the cats described. The illustrations are fabulously creative and are not meant in any way to be explanatory. They are, however, particularly entertaining and will offer readers a great deal to examine. Consider this, the cat depicted on the "cats are made of brains" page is constructed of a piece of circuit board, pencil sharpeners, wire, computer cords, glasses (yes, all us smart folk wear them), and a computer mouse (2 actually). The "cats are made of toughness" cat contains a sheriff's badge, nails and two miniature swords, while the "cats are made of softness" cat has a pillow for a head. The collages alone are worth spending time with, and I'll bet will make an excellent model for art teachers looking for some new ideas. Before you read on, take a minute to view a few of the illustrations at the Simon and Schuster site.

The text begins with the quote "There are no ordinary cats," and this introduction.
There are thirty-nine registered breeds of cats. Some are short, some are long, some are skinny, and some are fat. Some are playful and some are quiet, and some love people and some even act like dogs! Cats are made of all kinds of things. But there's one thing they have in common: The are special, and they know it. Because as Leonardo daVinci said, "The smallest feline is a masterpiece."
Following this introduction are 12 double-page spreads that each begin with the phrase "cats are made of ..." and end with words like energy, glamour, history, mutations, and more. A particular breed is used to illustrate the trait in detail. Breeds used include both common and lesser known varieties. Here's an example of what you'll find on the "cats are made of origami" page.
Scottish Fold cats have ears that are folded forward and down onto their heads, just like their origami versions! The folded ears are produced by an incomplete gene and are the result of a mutation. Not all Scottish Fold cats have folded ears, but all of them carry the gene for this characteristic. In fact, Scottish Fold kittens are born with normal ears. At about three to four weeks of age, their ears fold . . . or not!
After reading this I immediately thought of science teachers everywhere teaching about genetics using punnett squares and the same tired examples (fruit flies and pea plants). Wouldn't this be a fun trait to try?

Each double-page spread also includes a Feline Fact. These provide the kinds of tidbits that kids love to read about. More experienced folks may know these already, but here are some things this feline newbie learned.
  • Cats can independently rotate their ears 180 degrees. (I'm going to do some serious cat observation to see this one for myself!)
  • A cat's brain is biologically more similar to a human brain than it is to a dog's.
  • Domestic cats can sprint thirty-one miles an hour.
  • A cat's jaw moves only up and down, not side to side. (Another fact I wish to observe.)
The book ends with a double-page spread devoted to superstitions about cats.

I found this to be an entertaining and educational read. It will make a terrific introduction to the world of domestic cats, as well as a good example/idea text for art classes.

Now if only Mr. Piven will turn his sights and talents to dog breeds . . .

Book: What Cats are Made Of
Author/Illustrator: Hanoch Piven
Publisher: Ginee Seo Books
Publication Date: March, 2009
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: 1-5
ISBN: 978-1416915317
Source of Book:
Personal copy purchased at a local independent bookstore.


  1. Excellent. Thanks for the recommendation. Will see if the library has it.

  2. That sounds like a purrfectly fun read!

  3. I have loved all those fun posts about dogs as well. Glad to know I'm in good company!