Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

One of the reasons why I love reading classic picture books is that they are usually refreshingly unpredictable. Also, they weren’t afraid to be a little politically incorrect sometimes, which made for highly original and entertaining stories.

Millions of Cats, for instance, starts off innocuously enough with a lonely old couple who decide to get a pet cat. Alas, the old man’s search quickly becomes more complicated when he finds not one or two or 10 cats, but a conveniently catchy “millions and billions and trillions” of them.

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What ensues is a cautionary tale on indecisiveness, overpopulation, vanity and overcompetitiveness — it’s a dog-eat-dog (or cat-eat-cat, really) world out there! — that, oddly enough, still manages to come across as heartwarming. All’s well that ends well, however, when they find that one-in-a-trillion cat.

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Thanks to the Wanda Gag‘s superb storytelling and visually dynamic black-and-white illustrations, this is a strangely hypnotic and unforgettable book that holds up well to repeat readings. Plus, all the text was painstakingly hand-lettered by the author’s brother alongside the illustrations, which lends the book an inimitable visual coherence.

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