Review: Professor Buber and His Cats

Professor Buber and His Cats

by Susan Tarcov, illustrated by Fotini Tikkou

Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Arlene Schenker

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A whimsical fictional story based on the real life of philosopher Martin Buber, this picture book will delight all readers, from the children hearing it to the adults reading it.

The illustrations of the cats are so expressive that it seems perfectly reasonable when seven street cats start talking to Ketem, the cat protagonist of the story. Ketem is looking for a new home with lots of books. Her home in a book store was perfect, but the store is closing. Professor Buber’s house on Hovevei Zion street with its thousands of books would be ideal, but the street cats tell Ketem that the professor doesn’t want any cats in his house. He loves animals, but he cannot be distracted by their conversation when a person comes to him for advice; he needs to concentrate on that person’s problem.
Ketem is able to convince Professor Buber that he can have cats live with him and still be able to give his full attention to students, to his great-granddaughter, or to anyone else who seeks him out. What he needs is more cats, not fewer, so they can talk to each other when the professor is occupied. In the end, Ketem, along with the seven street cats, are warmly welcomed into Professor Buber’s home.

The author weaves in Martin Buber’s habit of talking to animals, trees, and even stones, in addition to his “I-Thou” theology, in a completely child-friendly way. The story is followed by an author’s note, which includes a short biography of Professor Buber and a couple of photos of the great man himself and of his home.

I think this book is an excellent candidate for a Sydney Taylor Book Award. It entertains beautifully while subtly but clearly conveying Buber's ideas on how to treat others and is a wonderful early childhood introduction to one of the great Jewish thinkers and philosophers.

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Reviewer Arlene Schenker has a degree in Child Development from Cornell University and a Juris Doctor from New York University Law School. She has worked as a New York City primary grade teacher, a lawyer, divorce mediator, and a community activist and volunteer. She now spends most of her time reading and writing picture books.