Title: Backstage Cat
Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Jenni Desmond
Publisher: Maplewood, NJ: Blue Apple Books, 2013
Genre: Picture book, fiction
Audience Age: 4 to 8 years
Themes/Topics: Backstage, theater, introduction to theater
Opening Sentences: I am a backstage cat. My owner is a celebrity. I ride with her to the theater in a big, silver-grey limousine.
Synopsis: Simon, a cat whose owner is the leading lady in a Broadway show, narrates the story, which is a detailed introduction to backstage told through a delightful story. Simon watches his lady get ready for the performance, and the reader sees the makeup artist working, several dressers helping her into her costume, a man with a headset calling “five minutes” – then, although she tells Simon to stay in the dressing room, he scampers out.
While Simon explores, we’re introduced to the various things that are found backstage in a theater, costumes, lights, props. A loud noise causes Simon to scoot onstage and up into a prop tree. This allows us to be introduced to the stage manager, the prop person, the electrician, as well as to all that is above the stage, as they try to coax him down.
His lady is finally able to soothe him with a lovely song, and he comes down… only to become involved in one final adventure before the production ends. It’s a shame there isn’t a melody given for the song, as the words are lovely, and reminded me of “Not While I’m Around” by Stephen Sondheim.
Harriet Ziefert has also written a book titled Lights on Broadway, which I featured as a Perfect Picture Book pick in March of 2012.
Activities/Resources: Have kids make masks (paper grocery sacks make great masks to cover the whole head) and act out the story, or make puppets from lunch bags and do the same.
A great activity would be to go to a theater open house and take kids on a tour of backstage.
There is an interview with the illustrator at the website of the publisher, Blue Apple Books. After reading the interview, or having it read to them, it would be fun to have kids illustrate the story in their own way.
To learn more about theater, there is a great deal of information and tips at the Julie Andrews Collection website, under the heading Theater Wisdom.
Availability: Readily available in hardcover, online and in independent bookstores.
Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”