June 22, 2023

What If I'm Not a Cat?

Written by Kari-Lynn Winters
Illustrated by Kelly Collier
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
June 2023

Donkey was a cat. He knew he was a cat because all the clues were there. Farmer came into the barn and called out to her kitty cats so that had to include Donkey. Donkey strutted like a cat, he licked his fur, and enjoyed cuddling. And the little things he couldn't do like enjoy cat food, climb trees or catch mice were just some of the things he needed to learn still.
From What If I'm Not a Cat?, written by Kari-Lynn Winters, illus. by Kelly Collier
But then Donkey climbs up on Farmer's lap and hears, "Donkey, you're acting like a cat!" Donkey starts to rethink his attributes relative to the cats and asks himself, "What if I'm NOT a cat?"
From What If I'm Not a Cat?, written by Kari-Lynn Winters, illus. by Kelly Collier
The cats try to help. Some are convinced that Donkey is a cat and, while others begin to question their own identities, there are those who offer suggestions about what Donkey might truly be. Devastated with his identity crisis, he ventures out alone, into the loneliness beyond the farm. When he discovers a kitten in danger from a fox, Donkey helps save the little feline while uncovering some wonderful new things about himself.
From What If I'm Not a Cat?, written by Kari-Lynn Winters, illus. by Kelly Collier
For anyone who has ever questioned their identity and place, from family member to gender, What If I'm Not a Cat? recognizes that fitting in is less about being exactly the same and more about being part of something that feels right. Writer Kari-Lynn Winters has tackled the topic of fitting in and labelling of identities before (see French Toast and Good Pirate, both from 2016) but the farcical nature of a donkey who accepts himself as a cat makes What If I'm Not a Cat? both zany and effective in its messaging. Donkey only begins to question himself when others start to do the same. It's only when he feels accepted completely for both his similarities and differences that Donkey becomes Don-kitty and everything feels right again.
Kelly Collier, author-illustrator of A Horse Named Steve and Team Steve, gives her digitally-rendered illustrations a cheekiness of character. Kari-Lynn Winters gives us the story, but Kelly Collier most definitely gives us the characters, from Donkey who always seems to have a spring in his step–except when depressed–to the cats who are playful, diverse and saucy. There's a perfect balance of content and context that comes from a brilliant collaboration between Kari-Lynn Winters and Kelly Collier.

If What If I'm Not a Cat? teaches readers anything, it's that fitting in is not dependent on being the same as everyone else. Fitting in comes with self-acceptance. So, even if you're not a cat–which is pretty cool–you still belong.

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