One recent day at school we read a book by Wanda Gag at meeting time entitled Millions of Cats. It’s an eastern European folk tale about a little old man who gets a kitten for his little old wife. The illustrations are black and white wood cuts — very different from the colorful illustrations on the books we usually read.
I happen to love this story which has some funny twists (and some that I edit out!) and which has the refrain: “Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats!” One child announced that the book looked boring. But as we worked our way through the story, he, along with the rest, joined in chanting the refrain which is rhythmic and repeated often.
I first heard about this story in grad school when I read Cushla and Her Books by Dorothy Butler. Cushla is a young Australian girl born with a birth defect whose doctors said among other things that she would never speak. Her family did not give up on her but began to read to her all sorts of literature from a very young age. Through this regular connection with wonderful children’s literature, among other things, Cushla began to grow and develop and disproved the doctors’ predictions. Millions of Cats was one of her books.
I am reminded of the importance of exposing our children to all sorts of literature, not just the mainstream popular stories of our day, but older, interesting, and poetic narratives which have great value. Literature is much more than entertainment, it expands our vocabulary, expands our horizons, expands our ideas about what might look boring but is actually engaging and interesting.