Off the Shelf: Puss in Boots

Check out the cover of this book.

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Notice anything interesting?

No title. No author byline. No illustrator name. No display text whatsoever. Crazy, huh?

This wonderful version of Puss in Boots is taken from Perrault’s tale and illustrated by Fred Marcellino. The one thing you can see on the cover is that it’s a Caldecott honor book. And well deserved.

Do you remember Puss in Boots’ story? (Before his adventures with Shrek?) A miller’s third son inherited Puss. (When you’re the third son, you can’t expect much.) This is what the miller’s son thought of his inheritance:

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But little did he know that Puss in his wee little boots would make him rich. Puss immediately takes charge and tells the miller’s son to do exactly what he tells him to do and his “fortune is made.”

First, Puss bags some game and takes it to the king, telling his majesty that it’s a gift from the Marquis of Carabas (an altar-ego he’s created for his master).

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The thing I love about these illustrations is the dramatic angles. Here, it’s like we’re one of the courtiers looking down on the scene from a second-story balcony.

In this next one, we’re taking the perspective of the miller’s son bathing in the stream. I think this image really highlights the miller’s son’s ridiculousness β€” that his cat is so much smarter than he is.

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The cat’s cries stop the king’s carriage. Puss tells them that his master has been robbed, and the king’s servants quickly fetch a grand suit of clothing for the young trickster. The princess apparently thinks the miller’s son cleans up nice, so they all decide to go for a carriage ride.

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Puss runs ahead and threatens all the farmers to tell the king that the land they’re working belongs to the Marquis of Carabas. I love this image of everyone bowing to Puss like he’s the boss. I guess that’s one of the morals of this story. Act like the boss, and you’ll be treated like the boss. (Kind of like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.)

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OK, here is the ogre, the one who truly owns all that land. Puss knows that the ogre can transform himself into animals. The ogre does a lion, and Puss challenges him to change into a mouse. “I bet you can’t do teensie little animals as well as you can do big ones.”

Puss8So, the ogre takes the bait, transforms into a mouse, and Puss … uh … has dinner.

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With the ogre out of the way, the Marquis of Carabas is free to occupy his castle and take his place as lord of the land. The king, seeing that the Marquis has got it going on β€” good land, lots of servants, a great pad β€” does what any father would do. He offers his daughter’s hand in marriage. And she accepts, of course. And they are married that same day. Sheesh!

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I love Puss curled up at the top of the stairs as if to say, “My work here is done.”

And I’m crazy about this painting of Puss, with the two mice below staring up in awe of him. Hilarious.

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I hope you enjoyed these illustrations as much as I did. I like this book because the story is pretty much straight from Perrault. There aren’t many changes in the text, but the images do all the editorializing. Contrasted with the words, they provide all the irony and humor needed.

As for the moral of the story, I’m not sure if it’s teaching kids that it pays to be smart or it pays to be phony. What do you think?

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Do you know any phonies like the miller’s son?

 

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