I’ll admit that the suggestion of ‘treats’ in the titles of these books appealed to me, as I’ve got an insatiable sweet tooth. And the dynamic author and illustrator duo Jory John and Pete Oswald have a popular streak of books behind them, so without even flipping through the pages of this picture book I knew I would love it. The Smart Cookie is the latest installment in their Food Group Series which I’ve enjoyed reading with my kids because the books blend subtle emotional lessons with bright and bold illustrations. The Smart Cookie is no different, it’s about a sprinkled treat that struggles to keep up at school, and then spends all night anxious about falling behind while crammed into a cookie jar with too many roommates. But one day the teacher suggests a unique assignment; create anything you want, but it has to be totally original. The cookies attempts many different activities and projects, none of them turning out well, until finally the cookie realizes that poetry comes easily, and wows the class with a creative and unique poem. The range of projects demonstrates that everyone is good at their own thing; the croissant is a science whiz, the donut is a painter, the cupcake is an inventor, etc..
The anxiety of keeping up with peers is something I vividly remember from my own childhood, and already see examples of with my own children – we all just want to fit in, and I think that same feeling follows us into adulthood. By re-creating this common problem with a cast of treats and a biscotti teacher, it allows human children to relax and enjoy the story because it doesn’t seem so much like an obvious lesson, but (hopefully) they still internalize the message. Perhaps I’m reading into it too much, but I also appreciated the fact that this book sensitively dealt with the experience of being crammed into a too-small space that keeps the cookie up at night. So many children have these struggles with their home life, especially during the pandemic, but this story demonstrated that this smart cookie was able to rise above these challenges and still succeed.
Books with cats in them are a sure hit at our house, as both my children have officially activated ‘crazy cat lady’ mode now that we have a cat again. They will pick up any book that features a cat in it, so I was quite sure they’d enjoy Waffles and Pancake, Planetary-Yum, A Catstronauts Kitten Adventure by Drew Brockington. Waffles and Pancake are siblings (and kittens), and they are spending the day with their dad at a museum. While there they learn about the first cat-landing on the moon, meteorites, hair balls from thousands of years ago, etc.. At one point they become lost but they work together and their Dad eventually finds them. Then, they get dropped off at their Mom’s house, which prompted my kids to ask why these kitties’ parents live in two different homes, and my husband responded with the observation that lots of parents live in separate houses and this is quite common. He even listed off a few of their friends who we know their parents live separately, which seemed to suffice as an explanation (for now!).
Aside from prompting a quick discussion on divorce – although we didn’t actually use that word – this book doesn’t deal with too many ‘serious’ issues, its main conflict is the kittens getting lost and then found, so younger children can enjoy this story just as much as kids who could read it on their own. Some graphic novels we’ve read together can skew a bit older in the topics they introduce, so I’d consider this a lighter and younger read than most.
When I asked why they liked this book so much, my kids said they loved the cats, and they especially liked the part where the cats ate stars (they eat stars in the museum cafeteria along with cans of tuna and other cat-like foods). We’ve enjoyed other Drew Brockington books before in this house, and he’s quite good at nailing the humour that specific age ranges enjoy – the kids laughed their way through this graphic novel. My oldest who is almost 7 is probably able to read this book on her own now (it’s recommended ages 6-9) but we enjoy reading aloud together in this house so she hasn’t attempted it on her own yet. Personally, I love the idea of a cat named Pancake, which is one of the reasons I like reading this book, plus the illustrations are simple but cute and they hold my childrens’ attention well. Some quick searching reveals this book is part of a larger series, so I’ve already got some ideas for birthday presents!