Manybooks's Reviews > Millions of Cats

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág
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bookshelves: childrens-literature, picture-books, book-reviews, ecology
Recommended for: anyone who likes picture books about animals, especially vintage picture books about animals
Read 2 times. Last read July 24, 2017.

While I did enjoy the story (the narrative) itself, I did not find the accompanying illustrations of Wanda Gág's Millions of Cats all that visually appealing. I have never really liked black and white illustrations all that much, and the many, many cats together kind of remind me of masses of lemmings, rodents or locusts, faceless swarms of animals with no personalities or individual features (the only personable cat, in my opinion, is the little kitten left at the end, all the others are just a big mass of "catdom").

Now after having read some of the more negative and critical reviews from GR friends regarding Millions of Cats, I was actually at first rather reluctant to read it, as I assumed that it would describe in detail the cats eating each other and fighting amongst themselves. However, as others have indeed previously stated, the violence (or rather, the implied and supposed violence, as we only have the assumption of the old couple that the cats might have eaten each other) happens off-screen and thus is not ever really visible or even described. And furthermore, because there is an element of disbelief present (the old man brings home not just too many cats, but millions of them) this probably renders the author's, Wanda Gág's presented text much less problematic for children, who often seem able to accept the often grotesque violence in fairy and folk tales, simply because it is unbelievable, or just too overly exaggerated.

For me, Millions of Cats is not only an entertaining and intriguing story (albeit one with illustrations that I personally do not find all that aesthetically attractive), but also presents a cautionary tale about human responsibility, or more to the point, the lack of human responsibility. It was the old man's responsibility to find one cat to bring home, but he brought home millions. And later, when it becomes obvious that there are simply too many cats, the old couple again does not face their responsibility or accountability; they simply force the cats to fight it out amongst themselves. Furthermore, the fact that the original hill the old man sees is literally covered with domestic feral cats might also be seen as a lack of pan-human responsibility to both domesticated animals (including pets) and the environment in general (humans abandoning domestic cats in the wild and not realising or caring that there are likely not enough natural spaces available for all of them, that the feral cats will also need to eat and drink, and that the cats' presence will obviously also affect the environment, their surroundings). I know that many people regard Millions of Cats as an allegory against vanity, but I think that it could and really should also be interpreted as an allegory against irresponsibility (and perhaps even with more justification than this story being a cautionary tale against vanity). You might even say that Wanda Gág's Milliosn of Cats could easily present one of the first picture books (one of the first books for younger children) to somewhat promote environmental responsibility, by showing that we cannot simply allow domestic animals to overrun nature.
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Reading Progress

February 10, 2010 – Shelved
February 19, 2010 – Shelved as: childrens-literature
February 19, 2010 – Shelved as: picture-books
May 20, 2010 – Started Reading
May 20, 2010 – Finished Reading
February 10, 2011 – Shelved as: book-reviews
June 9, 2011 – Shelved as: ecology
July 24, 2017 – Started Reading
July 24, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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Krista the Krazy Kataloguer Gundula, you bring out points about the symbolism in the book that I hadn't thought of! Although I don't think any of it would occur to kids. As to the illustrations, the book was originally published in 1928, when both that style and black-and-white illustrations were common in children's books. I must admit, I'm not wild about the illustrations myself, but I do love cats, and lots of them, which is what attracts me to the book. Given your review, however, I'll have to take another look at it.


message 2: by Manybooks (last edited May 27, 2010 07:04AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manybooks I was actually debating giving it 4 stars, I was vacillating between 3 and 4 stars (3.5 would have been my choice). About the symbolism, probably you are right that it might not occur to kids, but I think we often give children far too little credit, they are often very, very perceptive. Also, there are many children's books that can be read and understood on different levels, and even if a child (or an adult for that matter) might not see what I see, the story (stories) can still be enjoyed and appreciated.


Krista the Krazy Kataloguer Agreed. And, though children may not be conscious of some of the symbolism or implications in a story, it may leave an unconscious impression on them. Perhaps the best children's literature is that which can be read on multiple levels.


Manybooks Krista the Krazy Kataloguer wrote: "Agreed. And, though children may not be conscious of some of the symbolism or implications in a story, it may leave an unconscious impression on them. Perhaps the best children's literature is th..."

I would agree with that, also due to the fact that then, both children and adults will most likely enjoy the book(s), making reading together with children even more enjoyable and likely.


Lisa Vegan Gundula, I really like your thoughts about this one. Perhaps all those homeless cats were what got to me the most but that thought hadn't fully coalesced in my mind.


Manybooks Lisa wrote: "Gundula, I really like your thoughts about this one. Perhaps all those homeless cats were what got to me the most but that thought hadn't fully coalesced in my mind."

Well, actually that was probably the main reason I thought that the book was about irresponsibility, the fact that all those poor little cats were homeless with not enough food or water, and that in the end, the old couple did not really help the cats at all, but basically abandoned them (just like they were probably originally abandoned, as pets who have outlived their supposed "usefulness"). In many ways, the old couple did not really deserve a cat at all, but I was happy for the remaining cat, although the fate of the others did pain me.


Ronyell Gundula, I never thought about the theme of irresponsibility of the humans until you brought it up! Now, I agree that the old man was a bit irresponsible in not thinking about how he was going to feed the cats, instead of bringing millions of cats with him, although I did find the story very intriguing to read. But, I do agree with you about how the old man should have thought about how he was going to take care of all those cats instead of trying to bring all of them with him. Also, I did think that the old couple should have come up with a better solution to choose which cat they wanted instead of letting them fight it out and eat each other up that way, no one would have gotten hurt.


Manybooks Abigail wrote: "A thoughtful review, Gundula. Like you, I had trouble seeing this as an allegory about vanity. Your idea that it might be intended as an allegory about responsibility is intriguing, although I susp..."

Isn't that amazing, it just shows how much children's literature has to offer and how ideas etc. change over time. The thing is, Gag might not have ever intended the tale to be seen as an allegory or as a cautionary tale, but that is the beauty of texts, what each reader brings to them and what each reader gets out of them. And, although I have never been a fan of absolute reader response theory (as that completely negates the author of a text), it is certainly true that once a text reaches the readers, many different interpretations etc. can occur, and the intention, or rather the supposed intention of the author is just one of these possibilities.


message 9: by Ronyell (last edited May 29, 2010 11:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ronyell It's like what happened with The Lorax Gundula, when many people thought that the book was trying to promote anti-industrialization, even though I personally thought that the book was just trying to promote enviromental awareness and I don't think that Dr. Seuss was purposely saying that industrialization is bad (although I'm not really sure how he felt) but that's an example of how many readers take a simple text from a book and translate it into something beyond the book's content.


Kathryn What a wonderful, thoughtful review! As you so astutely point out, it is not only the tragic fate of the cats that is so troubling but the lack of responsibility in the old man and old woman. I really didn't "like" this book for that reason, though I appreciate the cautionary aspect and I did like most of the illustrations.


Manybooks Kathryn wrote: "What a wonderful, thoughtful review! As you so astutely point out, it is not only the tragic fate of the cats that is so troubling but the lack of responsibility in the old man and old woman. I r..."

I would certainly not call it a favourite, but when one thinks of the time when this book was written, it has quite a modern message (even an environmental message at that).


Manybooks Abigail wrote: "Argh! I just "unliked" your review by accident, Gundula! Never fear, I've "liked" it again! :)"

I've done that before, ha, ha :-)


message 13: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura M a reminder on the illustrations: this book was originally published in 1928 ... so this is about as sophisticated as the illustrations probably could have been at the time.


Laima Great review, Gundula. I though the two old folks were rather irresponsible and indecisive. This was not an appealing book. I found it kind of creepy actually.


Manybooks Laima wrote: "Great review, Gundula. I though the two old folks were rather irresponsible and indecisive. This was not an appealing book. I found it kind of creepy actually."

Creepy, but interesting nonetheless (I also wonder if the old couple's lack of responsibility is more obvious to modern readers, who are more sensitive to what kind of environmental damage feral domestic animals can do and the fact that many abandoned domestic animals also end up injured or worse).


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