Review: The Unexpected Adventures of C.A.T.

The Unexpected Adventures of C.A.T.

by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Sam Loman

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Beth Gallego

Chaya is in the fourth grade, lives with her family in an apartment in New York City, and loves cats. She loves everything about them. She loves that her initials - from Chaya Ann Tober - make her a cat, or at least a C.A.T.

Her initials aside, Chaya describes herself as thoroughly average. She is in the middle of her class academically, and also when they line up by size. She lives with her parents and older brother in a New York City apartment. She dotes on the family’s pet cat, Ollie.

After accidentally taking a bite of Ollie’s food, Chaya has an exceptionally vivid dream of becoming a cat with fur the same bright ginger as her hair. The next night, she finds herself once again a cat, and realizes it was no dream. She quickly discovers that cat life brings its own challenges.

Chaya narrates in a personable, engaging way, inviting the reader into her life. Her excitement about becoming a cat bubbles off the page. Delightful illustrations enhance the text. Kitty-Chaya still wears her hair bow, and the facial expressions capture the wonder and the worries Chaya feels. This adventure with a touch of magic and a lot of humor is ideal for younger middle-grade readers.

Jewish content is integral to the book as Judaism shapes Chaya’s everyday life. She explains early that she is named in honor of her paternal grandmother, who passed away two months before Chaya was born, “according to our Jewish tradition.” She mentions studying both English and Hebrew at school, and her class is dismissed early on Fridays. Family Shabbat dinner is followed by a day of synagogue and then rest, reading, or board games (with creative non-writing ways to keep score). Her brother is studying for his Bar Mitzvah.

It is a charming representation of a Jewish family where Judaism is unrelated to the main plot. Observant young readers will see themselves reflected in a fantasy adventure story, while readers unfamiliar with Jewish traditions benefit from breezy comments as they are introduced. Consider this a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Beth L. Gallego grew up outside Chicago, earned her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, and promptly moved to sunny Southern California, where she has been a Librarian since 2002.