I've come late to the Mr. Putter & Tabby books by Cynthia Rylant. For some reason, until recently, I had not read even one book in the series. Yep, that’s almost 20 years and 22 books, and even though I've taught six of my children to read, I had, somehow, missed every book. Until now.
When Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball was nominated for a Cybils Award, I picked it up expecting (unfairly, I might add) a rather stale, late-in-a-series story. I was surprised and delighted to find just how wrong I was. Deciding that I had neglected this series long enough, I took a quick trip to the library and checked out a stack of books. Now after reading through eight books, I've found new characters to love and old books to share. Although I enjoyed all the books I read, Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball is still my favorite.
Mr. Putter and his “fine cat” Tabby love to nap, but they seem to be napping all the time, so Mr. Putter decides they need a sport. His neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry knows of a baseball team that will be just right for him--the Yankee Doodle Dandies--and when Mr. Putter expresses concern about being too old, Mrs. Teaberry offers to join the team with him. They arrive at the ballpark, leave Tabby and Mrs. Teaberry's dog, Zeke, on the sidelines, and take their places on the field. But Zeke doesn't want to be a spectator, so despite being told to “stay,” he runs onto the field and grabs the ball. Just when it seems like Zeke’s mischief will cause the Yankee Doddle Dandies to lose, he finds a helpful way to be part of the game.
Told in five short chapters, this book is just what an easy reader should be. Short sentences with easy-to-read vocabulary (most of which newly independent readers will recognize) are surrounded by plenty of white space. Repetition in the text creates rhythm and familiarity. Personality-filled illustrations with bold lines and bright color help pace the story by alternating between spot art and double-page spreads. And they add detail--check out the trading cards at the end of the book.
But the best thing about the book is that it is funny. Glimpses into Mr. Putter’s thoughts make Zeke’s antics comical, largely because of Mr. Putter’s silent predictions.
“Let’s go play,” said Mrs. Teaberry.
She looked at Zeke.
“Stay,” she said, patting Zeke’s head.
Mr. Putter looked at Zeke.
No way, Mr. Putter thought.
Illustrations like those of Mr. Putter covering his eyes in exasperation (“Mr. Putter couldn't watch.”) or standing helpless with the ball on the ground in front of him (“Mr. Putter tried to bend down. But his knees said, No way.”) contribute to the humor that makes this book engaging.
Hats off to you, Ms. Rylant for putting well-loved characters into a fresh, new story.
The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of other Cybils panelists.
Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball
by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Arthur Howard
published by Harcourt Children’s Books