By Aron Nels Steinke
40 pages, color
Published by Blue Apple Books
Around this time last year I got to read Aron Nels Steinke’s excellent graphic novel Neptune, an all-ages adventure involving a mysterious dog and a massive flood. I was pretty excited, needless to say, to receive a copy in the mail of his new children’s graphic novel The Super Crazy Cat Dance, part of Blue Apple Books’s new "Balloon Toons" line of comics for younger readers. Just like the Toon Books line, this is the kind of comic for kids that you’ll want to start buying your own children, nieces, nephews, and friends.
The Super Crazy Cat Dance starts, rhythmically, like a children’s book in the way that books by authors such as Doctor Seuss begin. Our narrator’s words are in verse, as she stands on top of a roof and tells us, "I have cats, oh yes I do. I might be crazy and so might you." And from there, it’s a fun little story about large numbers of cats (which promptly appear) and identifying their numbers and locations. Honestly, if the entire book was just like this I think I’d have still been on board and enjoying it. Steinke’s rhymes don’t feel forced and they have a strong meter. I can see reading this book to a younger reader (or letting them read it) and getting a real kick out of the book.
At the halfway point, though, Steinke breaks his own structure that he’s formed up until now by the arrival of a second character who wants to know when the dancing part of The Super Crazy Cat Dance is going to make an appearance. When the narrator looks surprised, the newcomer calmly notes, "That’s the name of the book, isn’t it?" And so, the rhyming scheme left behind, we are taught the cat dance and the scenery shifts to an even more fantastical location than before. It’s a sly second half of the book, the narrator admitting that she didn’t figure out what would happen next, and an entertaining wrap-up to the children’s story. Children won’t bat an eye at this sudden change in Steinke’s writing, but adults will appreciate the sudden change and look forward to the difference.
Even more important, though, is Steinke’s art. It’s adorable, with animated cats of all colors, shapes, and sizes cavorting across the pages. There’s a ton of stuff to look at on every page, from cats in strollers, to a swim on Lake Meowzer. You’ll enjoy just checking out all of the characters and objects packed onto each page, but it’s just as easily used as a collaboration between you and a younger reader, asking if they can find the sunbathing cat, or how many buildings are in a given scene. Steinke’s art is a clean, open style that lends itself to this kind of book, but it’s worth noting that (aside from the cover of Neptune) this is the first time I’ve seen it in color. As good as he is in black and white, his color work is great. The different shades and hues just pop off of the pages, and it lets all of the details in The Super Crazy Cat Dance come to life even more.
The Super Crazy Cat Dance is a sweet, fun book, and it’s one that parents will cheerfully read with their children over and over again. I love that more children’s book publishers are embracing the comic book form; children are smart and can figure out how the words and pictures come together, and any sort of gateway book to them trying other genres and formats as they get older is a good thing. If the other Balloon Toons books are as good as The Super Crazy Cat Dance, then Blue Apple Books has a massive hit on their hands. Me, I’m already trying to figure out which children I know are getting their own introduction to the dance.