In “City Cat,” by Kate Banks, with illustrations by Lauren Castillo, an inquisitive pet makes her way through eight cities in six countries, hitching rides in cars, trucks, trains and boats as she keeps pace with a young family traveling the same route from their home in Rome to the great cities of Spain, France, Germany, Holland and England.
Though there are hints — in the text and in the pictures — to help readers figure out which city the cat is exploring, the endpaper maps and an appendix naming and describing each location will be a necessary aid for all but the most experienced tourists. Charmingly, Banks includes the word for “cat” in each country’s language and mentions local cat facts when pertinent: “The Catboat, a houseboat in Amsterdam’s canal belt, is a sanctuary for stray cats”; “The city of Venice has a big cat, the winged Lion of Saint Mark, as its mascot.”
Banks’s verse narrative is as elegant and lithe as her subject, full of poetic descriptions and playful, sophisticated vocabulary.
“City cat, strutting down the boulevards,
taking in the city sights.
The skyline, pulsing, bathed in light.
An obelisk, a graceful arch,
a gilded bridge, a sprawling park.”
Castillo, who has worked with Banks before, on “That’s Papa’s Way” (2009), creates illustrations that are a good match for the author’s evocative language. Her street scenes, with all their architectural detail, have the intentionally rough, textural look of lino prints, and her palette is an attractive and fashionable combination of rich neutrals and bright reds and mustard yellows. In all, “City Cat” may appeal as much to parents as to children, but there’s no harm in that. One advantage human travelers have over beasts: If you have to pack a suitcase, you can make room in it for this book as a reminder of why it is we go sightseeing in the first place.
“Emma in Paris” is the second in a series by Claire Frossard (the first was “Emma’s Journey”). Here, Frossard embellishes Christophe Urbain’s color photographs of Paris with illustrations of Emma (a perky gray-blue bird) and her menagerie of friends and relations. She also paints stylized trees and the odd head of lettuce onto the scenes. The effect of the photos and illustrations together is surreal and trendily old-fashioned. Using photographs as backdrops has the benefit of showing readers a Paris that is immediately recognizable, though now seen from the less-familiar avian perspective.
In Frossard’s Paris, Emma can live amicably with mice and cats; the people around them pay no attention to the animals dancing in the Métro, camping on stone-paved streets and performing acrobatic stunts like “the Perilous Tower” in front of la Tour Eiffel. Frossard provides helpful footnotes to explain the meaning of, say, croque-monsieur and Bastille Day. Though in many ways a slighter book than “City Cat,” “Emma in Paris” could be an excellent introduction to French culture and the capital city, in preparation for a trip there, or to help recall one.