Millions of Cats

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 MILLIONS OF CATS –  View on Amazon

by Wanda Gag; published (1928) by Coward-McCann, Inc.

In 1928, Newbery Medal winner MILLIONS OF CATS by Wanda Gag was a wonderfully innovative book.  The ‘two-page spread’ that we now take for granted – an illustration spread out across two pages – was a bold, creative move.  It changed the face of picture books and for that, if for no other reason, Wanda Gag deserves a review.

Apparently the oldest American picture book still in print, MILLIONS OF CATS does have a delicious old-fashioned feel with its formal, very proper prose, its rhythmic undertones and black and white illustrations. Granted, they are not by today’s standards the most attractive illustrations, or in the least bit ‘PC-ish’, but I do find them utterly quaint.  The story reads like this:

Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman.  They lived in a nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was.  But they couldn’t be happy because they were so very lonely.

“If only we had a cat!” sighed the very old woman. 

“A cat?” asked the very old man.

“Yes, a sweet little fluffy cat,” said the very old woman.

“I will get you a cat, my dear,” said the very old man.

……He walked a long, long time and at last he came to a hill which was quite covered with cats.

Cats here, cats there,

Cats and kittens everywhere,

Hundreds of cats,

Thousands of cats,

Millions and billions and trillions of cats.

Would you believe?  He chooses the prettiest one. But he sees another and another, just as pretty, and before long he’s chosen them all – yes, the whole ‘kit’ ‘n caboodle – the millions and billions and trillions of cats!

“My dear!” (his little wife is very concerned). “…. I asked for one little cat, and what do I see? – Cats here, cats there, cats and kittens everywhere, hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats.”

Absolutely too many cats to keep! They’ll have to choose.  “Which one of you is the prettiest?” they ask.

That fires a cat fight!  The very old man and the very old woman hide indoors while the cats have it out.

I think they must have eaten each other all up,” said the very old woman.  

Perhaps they did, we’re left to wonder. But a single one remains, the scraggliest who hasn’t thought itself pretty enough to fuss for attention. And it’s fed and it’s pampered and they learn to love it; in time, they come to think of it as the most beautiful cat in the world.

“I’ve seenHundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and billions and trillions of cats -”  says the old man, “and not one was as pretty as this one.”

Isn’t that peachy?

If you’d like to know more about Wanda Gag and view some idyllic images from the book, here’s a good post in a very good blog called Animalarium.


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