I’m more of a dog person than a cat person, but Nathan W. Pyle’s new illustrated book, “The Sneaking, Hiding, Vibrating Creature,” immediately caught my attention. The book is a read-along that will appeal to young children and adults alike with a simple premise: extraterrestrial visitors called Blue Beings are observing the popular furry felines from afar.
The book is part of the ongoing series “Strange Planet,” which was launched in 2019 with a single cartoon on the Internet. The blue aliens, Lifegiver and Offspring, observe the cat and record their findings in a journal. The book features more than just cute kitty cats. It shines a light of human behavior, although mankind never actually appears in the books.
Also available for the first time is “Strange Planet Activity Book,” which includes word and number games, along with exploration activities such as crossword puzzles, mazes and word searches. Pyle’s original Strange Planet book was number one on the New York Times Best Seller list. Apple TV announced that it will be developing a 10-episode children’s series based on the comics.
Pyle took a less than traditional path to becoming a children’s book author, having previously worked as a staff writer and illustrator for BuzzFeed. Pyle’s success began with a quirky cartoon he posted online about the time he and his spouse hid everything they could in their small apartment before their guests arrived to their party. It became a series of animated GIFs in 2013 on Reddit, which were turned into the book “NYC: Basic Tips and Etiquette.” The author also used the Internet to sell clever T-shirts on the online marketplace Threadless. His most popular T-shirt showed a man and Earth holding hands.
Readers will enjoy the hyper-literal illustrations. Examples include a bed called a “rest slab,” a kitty’s tongue is referred to as a “flavor muscle” and its claws are known as “death blades.”
The Blue Beings not only record the kitty’s actions but also try to replicate them (with little success). When the creature begins “vibrating,” the Blue Beings try to do the same but end up looking ridiculous. Another section makes fun of how the creature can lick all its limbs, but when the Blue Beings try they are unable to even lick their elbows.
The book is a hilarious look at the everyday strangeness of cats, like when they knock things off tables and climb curtains for no apparent reason. As the days go on, the Blue Beings use their “ink cylinders,” ballpoint pens, to record their scientific observations.
The workbook will help readers hone their imagination and build vocabulary, which builds off a young child’s literal observations of items around them. For example, a refrigerator is called a “sustenance preserver,” but younger readers may have their own names like “cold-a-matic.”
All in all, the book is a keeper and possibly one you could read with your cat — if you could ever find the darn thing and it doesn’t lie across the book.
Another picture book that is getting great buzz is illustrator David Small and writer Betsy Bird’s “The Long Road to the Circus.” Both have Michigan connections. The new book follows a young girl who discovers a word-famous Ostrich Rider in her own hometown of Mendon, Michigan, and starts dreaming of joining a circus. Bird, who now lives in Illinois, also writes the popular blog “Fuse #8.”
Small is a noted illustrator of children’s book and has been awarded a Caldecott Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Award for his graphic novel “Stitches,” which is one of the more disturbing psychological looks at abusive parents.
“The Long Road to the Circus” is partially based on the real-life performer Madame Marantette from Mendon, who was one of the best horsewomen in the country during the early part of the 20th century. Later in her life, she joined the Barnum and Bailey Circus, where she rode the ostrich known as Gaucho.