ANNE FINE LOUISIANA YOUNG READERS’ CHOICE NOMINEE 2009
Submitted by Samantha Klein, Graduate Student, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
The Diary of a Killer Cat by Anne Fine. Illustrated by Steve Cox. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.
ANNOTATION: This humorous chapter book is told from the point of view of a cat named Tuffy. His human family gets upset after he brings a dead bird and a dead mouse in the house, but they really go “mental” when he next brings in the neighbor’s beloved rabbit Thumper…dead, of course.
Tuffy is the narrator of this book; we see the events that occur in the story from his point of view. What makes it so funny is that Tuffy is a cat, so he looks at things in a different way than people do. He thinks his people are being ridiculous for being so upset with him for killing a bird when that is normal behavior for a cat. Students can do a creative writing exercise that will help them understand what first-person narration is. Ask children to write a story—it can be in diary form as in The Diary of a Killer Cat—from the point of view of an animal. The animal can be their own pet, an insect, a zoo animal, farm animal, or wild animal. The following site provides a lesson for further exploration of point of view: http://teachers.net/lessons/posts/414.html. It helps children learn to distinguish between first and third person points of view. The stories presented are The Three Little Pigs (traditionally told), The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, and The Giver by Lois Lowry. The Giver is probably too advanced for our age group, but other titles can be substituted: e.g. Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery by Deborah Howe and James Howe (or The Vampire Bunny, the easy reader version of Bunnicula), Sheep by Valerie Hobbs, and A Room with a Zoo by Jules Feiffer.
Write a Book Review:
Have the students write a short book review of The Diary of a Killer Cat. They could share the following: an explanation of what the story is about; whether they liked it or not and why; a character description of Tuffy. They could rate the book with stars, a five star review being the best. That is what children did for the Web site of the Old Hutton C of E Primary School, located in the town of Kendal, Cumbria, in the U.K. Click the following link to see student reviews of Fine’s books, including a few of The Diary of a Killer Cat: http://www.oldhutton.cumbria.sch.uk/learning/literacy/bookreviews/f.html.
“Is That How Cats Really Are?”
This lesson about cats comes from the ASPCA Web site: http://www.aspca.org/site/DocServer/Is_That_How_Cats_Really_Are.pdf?docID=4250. It asks children to brainstorm and research characteristics of real cats. They then can compare these characteristics to portrayals of fictional cats. A handout is provided to help them remember famous fictional cats, like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh (yes, both domestic and wild cats can be represented). A series of discussion questions round out the lesson; they try to get children to think of “basic cat care needs.” Tuffy can be brought into the discussion. In what ways does Tuffy exhibit characteristics of real cats? How is he not like a real cat? Does Tuffy show affection toward Ellie? How do real cats show affection ?
Natural History Museum of Los Angelos County: “Cats! Wild to Mild” http://www.nhm.org/cats/home.html. “Cats! Wild to Mild” is a traveling exhibit, but the Web site also provides in-depth information about cats of all types, organized in a clear fashion. On the left side of the page, click on “Teacher Curriculum” to see a 31-page “Curriculum Guide” that can be printed out. It includes many activities to engage students in the lesson.
One of the funny things about this book is Steve Cox’s cartoon illustrations. Discuss how his illustrations of Tuffy correspond with Tuffy’s voice in telling the tale. What kind of expression does Tuffy’s face show? Have children create their own cartoon animal character. Show children “Chunky Monkey’s Cartoon Lessons” on Pauline Camanor’s Chunky Money Web site: http://www.chunkymonkey.com/howto/drawinglessons.htm. She gives step-by-step directions for drawing monkeys, cats, fish, koalas, poodles, plus more! Books from the 1-2-3 Draw series will be especially of interest to kids interested in cartoon drawing. Titles include: 1-2-3 Draw Cartoon Animals, 1-2-3 Draw Cartoon Wildlife, and 1-2-3 Draw Pets and Farm Animals. The Web site for these books, produced by Peel Productions, provides a sampling of drawing instructions online: http://drawbooks.com/123_draw_series/index.html. Click on the individual titles.
WEB SITES Anne Fine: Official Web Site http://www.annefine.co.uk/index.html. The attractive Web site of the British author of The Diary of a Killer Cat would be nice to show to children. Her books are listed according to reading level; short summaries and cover images are presented along with each title. Good news to kids who loved reading The Diary of a Killer Cat: there’s two more books featuring Tuffy, entitled The Return of the Killer Cat and The Killer Cat Strikes Back! Her brief biography is written in first person point of view, and Fine shares with us a little about her childhood and her writing process. The Web site lists the many awards Fine won over the years, including the 1995 Nottinghamshire Libraries Award for The Diary of a Killer Cat. There is also a section about Fine having been the United Kingdom’s Children’s Laureate for the years 2001-2003. A link is provided for the Children’s Laureate homepage: http://www.booktrusted.co.uk/childrenslaureate/. The current Children’s Laureate is Michael Rosen.
Healthypet.com: Cat FAQs
http://www.healthypet.com/faq_list.aspx?id=2. Healthypet.com is produced by the American Animal Hospital Associate. The Cat FAQs provides answers to common questions about cats. Topics are organized under category headings, “Behavior”, “General Health”, “Diseases”, etc. The behavior questions may be of especial interest as a thematic connection to Fine’s book. The Dog FAQs can be linked from this page, too.
“Cats: Plans for Perfection” from National Geographic
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/97/cats/index.html. “The story of cats is ultimately a story about design”: this statement opens this intriguing online exhibit on cats. Children will love the intricate drawings. The drawing of the “retractable claw” moves to show how it works. Another drawing depicts a Sabertooth marking its territory on a tree branch; the text beside it notes that domestic cats do the same thing.