Mattoo, Let’s Play! by Irene Luxbacher

Advertised as a story of an energetic child who learns she must be calm if she wants to her cat play, Mattoo, Let’s Play! is a book I’ve been eagerly awaiting. It was the first book we read out of the library bag this week.

The story line is simple – a little girl, Ruby, loves her cat and wants to play with him, but for some reason Mattoo does not want to take rocket ship rides, play in a pots-and-pans band, or eat triple-decker jelly sandwiches. Ruby has just about given up hope, until her friend, Clemente, comes to visit one day. They imagine they are on a jungle safari, and they have to be quiet to see any jungle animals. In the end, Ruby’s thrilled to find the best jungle animal of all wants to come play – her very own Mattoo.

The illustrations in Mattoo, Let’s Play, are amazing. The pages of the jungle animals the children imagine are my favorite. They’re done in black and grey and white, and really give the impression of animals half-glimpsed through the gloom, while still being friendly and recognizable. This is artwork I’d enjoy hanging on my walls.

The text is well done, as well. There’s plenty of opportunity for dramatic reading. Try a hushed murmur for hiding in the jungle. My kids were sitting on the edge of the couch waiting to see what would happen next. The vocabulary shouldn’t be too difficult for a young reader, but since it’s not a leveled reader having a grownup nearby for a few hints would be helpful.

But does the message get across to children? I’m not so sure of that, at least on first reading. My three-year-old seemed not quite certain how “the fiercest, most wild, most wonderful creature of all – the mysterious spotted king of the jungle!” turned out to be a plain old housecat. We had to go back over a couple of pages to make sure he understood what had happened. and even then I’m not quite sure he gets why Mattoo is now willing to play (calm) games.

What Mattoo, Let’s Play! does provide is a great bit of role-modeling, and common reference point for kids and parents. It will be easy to prompt my kids to play gently by reminding them of Mattoo and Ruby, and that is usually more effective than simply telling them what to do. This is a book I’m going to want to keep on the bookshelf for a long time; the text is going to stand up to frequent repetition and the lesson will need refreshing from time to time.

Available on Amazon

Mattoo, Let’s Play! by Irene Luxbacher. Kids Can Press, 2010.

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