You can’t always be certain. Sometimes what it appears to be just isn’t so. Sometimes it is something entirely different. Sometimes it is what it is. Most times this is the truth.
It either is or isn’t – a cat. Right?
Recently, Minnesota author/illustrator Mike Wohnoutka addressed the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council hosted on the Martin Luther College campus in New Ulm, Minnesota. I was privileged to attend with a former student-teacher gone teacher and two teacher candidates. It was an evening filled with learning, laughter, reading, reflecting, doodling, and discussion. What does a cat got to do with it, you ask? Let me tell you….
Growing up with three older brothers, Mike Wohnoutka loved to draw, and he was determined to do well. From early on he would go to his room to read to get away from a little of the noise. He displayed talent early on, and his Headstart teacher noticed right away. She wrote a note on his report card indicating that he was an artist and that he should continue to draw. Later on in life his high school teacher suggested that he go to the library to learn about and study others’ works. He then went on to enter a contest in high school with a portrait of his dad, which drew him on the path to an art school in Savannah, Georgia with a 4-year scholarship.
Fast forward to today, and you will find that Mike had multiple opportunities to try out his talents – sometimes noticed and sometimes unnoticed. His talent is obvious and telling. He drew a cartoon masterpiece within seconds right before our eyes. It was incredible.
Throughout his time as a write and illustrator, Wohnoutka has had opportunities to work with a plethora of talented folks. He shared about his life as an author/illustrator and how each day starts with sitting in his study and thinking. It usually involves some coffee; sometimes there is music, sometimes there isn’t. “Think about who. Think about what.” That is telling lesson right there, and one we agree with as a principle. Dr. Wendy & I tell our teacher candidates that we teach learners, not subjects. We teach who, not what. When writing This is Not a Cat, Wohnoutka started with character development. That makes sense and is where we all should start – with the who, with us.
He talked about one particular work that we loved to hear about, to read about, and now to share with our students. This is Not a Cat. It reminded us that what we see is not always what we should believe. It also made me think about not being too overly confident with a decision; there is room for error in that suit. The mice in this picture book are pretty scared when they see a cat, which turns out to be a rat in a cat suit. Later, a real cat hunts that rat. This made me think of the phrase “what goes around, comes around.” Karma.
So many lessons in that simple but awesome book. Maybe I am grasping at straws but so be it. I saw the talent first hand. I am no literary award granter, but I like a book that can hook a reader and share a lesson or two. If it can cause a little suspense and some laughter, even better.
In closing… recently our SMSU colleague family has experienced deaths that have caused us to reflect on what is important. What is important to you? Find out and stay the course… Life is too important and too short not to know. Know what is a cat and what is not.
Stay Calm & Draw or Write On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.