Ket­zel, the Cat Who Composed

Lesléa New­man Amy June Bates, illus.
  • Review
By – December 3, 2015

This charm­ing vignette is based on a true sto­ry, which encour­ages read­ers to sus­pend dis­be­lief to enjoy a quirky plot and won­der­ful illustrations.

Although pop­u­lat­ed by a Jew­ish man and a cat with a Yid­dish name, it is not real­ly a Jew­ish tale. Moshe is a com­pos­er who walks to hear the sounds of his city for his music. One day he res­cues a stray kit­ten, ket­zel in Yid­dish, which becomes the animal’s name. The ani­mal responds to the dif­fer­ent emo­tions in the composer’s musi­cal scores. Moshe decides to enter a musi­cal con­test that seeks a beau­ti­ful com­po­si­tion in only six­ty sec­onds. He can­not come up with an idea. The cat walks across the keys, cre­at­ing a mag­nif­i­cent theme. Moshe works on this theme, sub­mits it to the con­test judges, wins a spe­cial men­tion and hears it played by a young girl in the con­cert hall where he sits with his cat. When Ketzel’s name is called out, the cat meows. The laughing

audi­ence brings the angry stage man­ag­er to the front lights to ask that the cat go. Then Moshe declares the cat is the com­pos­er; the two take a bow with the pianist. The piece is played in con­certs around the world, gar­ner­ing the kit­ten royalties!

Love, car­ing, music, a phi­los­o­phy of lis­ten­ing, and the Peabody Con­ser­va­to­ry mesh with out­stand­ing illus­tra­tions which piv­ot points of view as they cap­ture faces and mobile actions in a deli­cious read. Rec­om­mend­ed for the pic­ture book crowd and cat lovers of all ages.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions