Laura Bunting and Nicky Johnston – Coco: Big City Kitty

Scholastic, Australia, 2020

This charming book is both beautiful to look at and highly appropriate in its message  – ie that we all need to be prepared for change and able to adapt to new circumstances. This moral is, of course, not just one of our times, but is a particularly salutary one for both young and old in the COVID-19 world.

Barbie speaks with Nicky Johnston about Coco: Big City Kitty

Coco is a pretty little cat born into city life and loving every minute of it – the city, her apartment, her bedroom, her dance classes and her craftworks. The sudden change to her accustomed life comes from a move to the country and she must find the beauty and joy of that newness.

Nicky Johnston’s illustrations are full of delightful details and quirky elements, perfectly capturing both the youthful joie de vivre and the youthful anxiety of this little character. Coco is a visual delight for young readers and their adult book sharers.

The written story is equally delightful – I especially like Coco’s lists and the many evocative words which will spark interest. Bejewelling, pipsqueak paintings and arches of perfect pink roses are all part of Coco’s city world. Equally, her parents’ habit of dissembling by being too excited was a nice touch – a clue that something to come was not exciting at all, like pumpkin and dentist’s appointments. I do love a children’s book that gathers the adult reader into a layer below the written text – all the best ones do.

At forty plus pages of text, this book is at the longer end of picture books. Some littler people may need it in two instalments as a bedtime story, though my young test readers happily stayed the course and spoke about the themes and story elements with considerable insight and enthusiasm.

The choice of attractive and well-spaced fonts (California Dreamer Sans and Minik) enhances the reader’s experience and there is plenty to absorb young readers, watchers and listeners on every page of illustration – everything from freak shakes to paint colour sample cards in Coco’s bedroom. The book design is excellent.

One always hesitates to specify an age range for picture books as they are a source of wonder and delight for people of all ages. If pushed, I’d suggest from age 5 upwards, but the book could be shared in different ways with younger children too.

I am happy to report that Coco 2 and Coco 3 are in the pipeline. We will all look forward to their appearance. Coco Big City Kitty gave us all deep pleasure. It was indeed ‘purrfect’ as Coco would say.