Dear Tabby is the perfect companion to LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation. Written by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by David Roberts, Dear Tabby is told primarily in the form of advice column letters to Tabby D. Cat, and Tabby's responses. Tabby's no-nonsense tone is what really makes the book, Confronted with complaints from an overly-pampered puss named boots, Tabby's response, though polite, is along the lines of "Be thankful for what you have and stop complaining".
One neat thing about this book is that the different letter-writers all have quite distinct voices. These range from excessively chatty to whiny to insecure. But Tabby's responses are usually spot-on as well as entertaining. For example, after a bear named Betty, in trouble, asks Tabby NOT to tell her brother of her difficulties (even though she clearly needs help), Tabby replies:
"I must apologize. A horrible thing has happened to your letter. A gust of wind blew it right out of my paws. I chased it for half a block, but I'm afraid it blew right into the Dingaling Sisters' Traveling Circus. I think I saw your brother reading it. I realize that this is the last thing you wanted to happen! Again, I am truly sorry."
The humor is a bit subtle here. You have to get that Tabby is in going beyond letter-writing to actually manipulating events. Dear Tabby is more a book for early elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It's a book for kids who are comfortable with reading, perhaps even reading chapter books, but who still love a good picture book. And have a good sense of humor.
David Roberts' illustrations are a relatively small part of the book, compared to many picture books. But they are engaging and well-integrated with the text. A letter from a dizzy hamster is shown in circular form, with words around a wheel, for example. The illustrations also show what is only lightly implied by the text, that Tabby is not exactly living the high life. All of the animals are conveyed expressively, their moods and quirks visible to the discerning reader.
The book's designer also did a nice job of matching fonts to the circumstances of each animal. Incidental materials like news stories and wedding announcements also add to the fun of Dear Tabby. This information helps to tied off some of the various threads introduced by the letters.
I think that Dear Tabby would actually make a nice literacy-building tool for first graders. The kids could write their own letters to Tabby, or write their own responses to the letters that Tabby receives. Parents or teachers could expand upon the book by sharing snippets (carefully selected) from actual advice columns in the newspaper.
But in any event, Dear Tabby has humor and heart, and plenty of visual interest. Tabby, as the reader gleans from both words and pictures, is a strong, resourceful character, one whom kids will enjoy spending time with. Recommended, age 4 and up (though probably optimal at around age 6).
Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: February 8, 2011
Source of Book: Cybils review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Ashley Barrineau
Also reviewed by: MotherReader
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).