Love That Book Hate That Cat

Hate That Cat is a middle grade verse novel by Sharon Creech, and a sequel to Love That Dog. Jack is one grade older and has the same teacher as last year, Miss Stretchberry, who loves poetry. The story is written as Jack’s workbook exercises for Miss Stretchberry, and runs in many ways as a conversation of which we read one part. Jack responds to Miss Stretchberry’s comments and experiments (sometimes reluctantly) with new forms and new ideas.

Jack is struggling with grief: his dog, Sky (as in, Love That Dog) is dead; and with anger at a large black neighbourhood cat (*cough* Hate That Cat) who had clawed Jack during a misguided rescue attempt, and now hisses malevolently when Jack passes by.

Sharon Creech Books

This is a story about poetry. I nearly began making a list of all the poets and poems mentioned; there is a good number of them, both dead and living. After the story’s close Creech has included a list of Books on the Class Poetry Shelf, which is just perfect for the reader who wants to read more of what Jack read.

This is a story about the emotions of a elementary-grade boy as he grieves his dog, is persecuted by a cat, loves his teacher, and learns to love what he had hated.

This is a story about family. Jack’s mother is deaf and communicates through sign language; her experience of the world is very different from everyone else’s, and Jack is learning that.

This is a story about forms and definitions of poetry. Jack’s Uncle Bill, who teaches at a university, has strongly held opinions about poetry, and Jack mostly doesn’t agree with his uncle but doesn’t know how to defend what he thinks aloud. As a young poet and a student, many of Jack’s poems are variations or adaptations of famous poems – think William Carlos Williams’s famous “The Red Wheelbarrow” become:

So much depends upon

a black kitten

dotted with white

beside the photograph

of my yellow dog.

The poems manage the balancing act of reflecting the perspective and character of Jack, who is a child trying out something new and not entirely sure about this poetry-writing business, and of revealing more than they seem to, as in the poem quoted above: of seeming, on the surface, young and not terribly original, and underneath, revealing the pulse of the book, of Jack’s internal life. Creech manages it magnificently.

I liked it when you said

we could try

turning the metaphors

upside down or inside out

and I liked it when you used

my chair poem as an example

so

instead of saying

the chair is like a pleasingly plump momma

we could try

my momma is like a pleasingly plump chair

 

except that now

everyone thinks

my mother is very plump

and looks like a chair

and it doesn’t mean the same

when you turn them around

because while the chair

is a lot like a plump momma

my own mother

is like

so

much

more

than a chair.

Love That Dog and Hate That Cat leave the reader wanting to dive headfirst into more poetry; for older readers who have already experience the genre, these might be the books to reawaken love for that form.