‘Easter Cat’ a delight to read aloud to kidlets

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Kid tested. Kid approved. And back by popular demand. Time after time.

Grandsons Brendan, 6, and Christopher, 10, enjoy former Walla Wallan Deborah Underwood’s latest children’s book, “Here Comes the Easter Cat” so much that it’s the No. 1 story request when I read to them.

About the book

“Here Comes the Easter Cat,” by Deborah Underwood, 80-page picture book, Dial Books for Young Readers, www.penguin.com/y..., $16.99, for release Tuesday.

Deborah’s spare text works in delightful tandem with amusing, nuanced ink and colored pencil illustrations by Claudia Rueda.

While a narrator tells the story, Cat reacts through facial expressions and by holding aloft picket signs that sport drawings. Cat aspires to be the Easter Bunny and is not amused by any suggestion that Bunny has the job in hand.

Brendan reflects the expression and gesture as each illustration sets the tone — such as when Cat stands on his hind paws, knits his brows, crosses his front legs across his chest and glowers.

Cat’s couple of naughty ideas to “be nice” to the Easter Bunny crack us up every time we turn the page, even knowing already what pictures Cat has on his signs to “be nice.”

But I couldn’t say just what his ideas are, as it would spoil the surprises.

When the narrator asks what mode of transportation could be used should Cat step in as a replacement Easter Bunny, Cat walks across the page, index digit on one paw pointing upward in an “I have just the idea!” gesture and Brendan points to the ceiling, too.

Cat thinks the job calls for fancy clothes and disappointedly discovers that only a vest is needed. Up to Cat’s chin goes one paw in a “hmmm, this calls for careful consideration” mode and Brendan thoughtfully rubs his own chin.

“Ta-Da!” Brendan gleefully cries when Cat shows off the Easter Cat ensemble he plans to wear.

Turns out the author’s gray, black and white tiger-striped cat Bella inspired the story. While Deborah waited for a book idea to emerge, she drew a picture of Bella. It looked miffed somehow, and when asked why, it held up a sign, Deborah said.

“It turned out he was jealous of the Easter Bunny, and for good reason: everyone loves the Easter Bunny! How annoying is that?” she said.

Does Cat take over Easter duties? Will Cat’s low estimation of Bunny change? Will Cat learn empathy? Will Cat and Bunny become friends? How will the eggs be delivered?

Find out when Deborah’s book is released on Tuesday. This book is as much fun for youngsters as it is for those of us lucky enough to read aloud to young ears.

Another favorite Deborah book at our house right now is “A Balloon for Isabel,” illustrated by Laura Rankin, Greenwillow, 2010. Isabel and fellow porcupines in her class won’t receive a balloon for graduation unless they can come up with a way to keep their quills from popping them. Believe me, it’s hard not to spill the adorable solution Isabel concocts.

New also this year from Deborah will be “Bad Bye, Good Bye,” illustrated by Jonathan Bean and published by Houghton Mifflin in April. And Cat will be back in the fall in “Here Comes Santa Cat,” also illustrated by Claudia Rueda and published by Dial.

Among her more recent releases, Deborah published “Part-Time Princess,” $16.99 in hardcover. The little girl in this tale dreams she’s a princess who wears gowns, attends balls, fights dragons and tames trolls. Deborah is also the best-selling author of “The Quiet Book,” “The Loud Book” and “The Christmas Quiet Book.”

Along with actor/comedian Whoopi Goldberg, Deborah cowrites the “Sugar Plum Ballerina” chapter books, illustrated by Maryn Roos. Each adventure focuses on a different girl who attends the Nutcracker School of Ballet in Harlem. According to her website, Deborah has written at least 28 nonfiction books for kids.

She grew up in Walla Walla, the daughter of Douglas and Sally Underwood. Classmates at Green Park Elementary, Pioneer Junior High and Walla Walla High School Class of 1979 may remember her.

Her dad taught at Whitman College from 1958-1998 and her mom taught English as a second language at Walla Walla Community College and served on the Walla Walla Public School, planning commission and United Way boards. Her parents moved from Walla Walla to Davis, Calif., in 1999, and Sally died there in 2004. A 1983 alumna of Pomona College, Deborah settled in San Francisco.

For more information, see www.DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com or on Facebook at on.fb.me/1bhyh0k. Her stories are available locally at Earthlight Books, 321 E. Main St., 509-525-4983, www.earthlightbooks.com.

Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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