Jack is back, and so is Miss Stretchberry, but this time it is a cat at the center of the story, and not a dog. You may remember how much I loved the book, Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. I use Love That Dog in my poetry unit, reading it aloud to my students and using the poems and sense of exploration of poetic styles as a way to reach my young writers.
Well, Creech has done it again, but this time, the book is Hate That Cat, and just like its predecessor, the book is infused with poems from the canon (Edgar Allen Poe, William Carlos Williams, Valerie Word, Lord Tennyson, etc.) as Jack tries to come to grips with two things: how to find love for cats and how to explain his love for his mother, who is deaf. The book is written in the form of a poetic journal between Jack and his teacher, who remains a silent yet supportive and loving presence just off the pages of the book. Everyone should have a teacher like Miss Stretchberry in their life.
The cat element revolves around a black cat that scratched him and hurt him when he went out of his way to save it — thus the refrain: I hate that cat. But then, even as he continues to cherish the memories of his dog, Sky, that formed the center of Love That Dog, he gets a kitten and his heart melts. The black cat that he hates so much later redeems itself with Jack.
The mother element is more delicate and unfolds slowly, as Jack begins to tell what it is like to have a mother who is deaf and signs with her hands for language. He wonders early in the book, before we even know about his mother: how does someone who can’t hear sound experience a poem with sound words within it? He finds a way, and the book ends with a poetry reading, with his mother in the audience, as Jack signs his poems from the front of the room.
As with Love That Dog, I found myself getting very emotional at certain points in Hate That Cat and if you are not moved by Jack and his poems, then … I don’t know. Creech uses a sense of humor to set up the deeper emotional experiences from Jack’s world.
Along the way, Jack learns about poetic techniques such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, dissonance, and more. And Creech tosses a little literary fire into the mix by having Jack’s uncle, a college professor of English, argue with Jack about what makes a poem a poem (his uncle believes that poems must have grand themes, using intricate rhyming patterns and assures Jack that what he is writing in class are not poems at all, but just scribbles of words).
The book puts me into a bit of a conundrum: do I drop Love That Dog for Hate That Cat? Or do I find a way to use both?
Peace (in the wonder of books),