MEOW: 36 Charming Picture Books about Cats
Fuzzy, curious, snuggly, opinionated. I’m just a tad partial to cats—but then so are little ones, who love to meow along with the cat heroes and heroines of their favorite stories. Here are 36 of my favorite fiction and poetry picture books about cats. All these books are in print—with one bonus exception at the end of this list—and should be available from your local library or favorite bookstore.
Angel in Beijing by Belle Yang (2018)
A young Chinese girl finds a cat stuck in a tree and names her Kitty. They love to explore their hometown of Beijing together by bike (with Kitty sitting in the basket, of course). But on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, Kitty chases after one of the kites and ends up airborne. The little girl searches all over Beijing for Kitty, and just when she is about to give up hope, she learns that Kitty has found a wonderful new home. This is a sweet story of friendship and an ode to the city of Beijing.
April’s Kittens by Clare Turlay Newberry (1940)
This is the story of a little girl who is overjoyed when her cat, Sheba, has three kittens—that is, until her father tells her they are a one-cat family. Stricken over which of the cats she should keep, eventually April comes up with the perfect solution. Clare Turlay Newberry is a four-time Caldecott Honor winner and my very favorite children’s illustrator. Her drawings of animals (particularly cats and rabbits) are just phenomenal, and her stories are equally wonderful—though lengthy, as is common in older picture books.
Cat Secrets by Jef Czekaj (2011)
This book is for cats ONLY, and you don’t look like a cat. If you’re really a cat, you have to prove it. Can you meow, stretch, take a cat nap? This is a fun, interactive book that will get little ones moving, laughing, and maybe even sleeping (well, the cats will try to convince them to sleep, at least).
Cat Talk by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Barry Moser (2013)
This picture book is a collection of thirteen short poems, each written from the perspective of a different cat. Read one poem a night or pick a few of your favorites. The watercolor illustrations are stunning and perfectly capture the personalities of each of the different cats.
Chester by Melanie Watt (2009)
Chester the cat won’t stop getting in the way of the author as she tries to write a story about a mouse. He adds some text and changes the illustrations with a thick red marker. He even tries to end the story prematurely so he can tell his own story. But the author fights back—she lets it rain on Chester and his story, and she even writes a story about him wearing a pink tutu. Little ones will crack up over this hilarious battle of wills between author and cat.
Cookie’s Week by Cindy Ward, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (1988)
Cookie the cat has a very busy (and messy) week, starting with a fall into the toilet on Monday and ending with a climb up the curtains on Saturday. What will Sunday hold? This simple story, charmingly illustrated by beloved picture book artist Tomie dePaola, is perfect for toddlers—especially those who make more than their fair share of mess.
Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library! by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, illustrated by Steve James (2009)
This is the true story of Dewey, a little orange cat who finds a home in a public library in Iowa. At first, all Dewey wants to do is play in the library, but he slowly learns what it means to be a library cat, spending time with all the people who come to visit the library—and especially with those who need a friend.
Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert (1990)
A house cat who has escaped outside tries to catch one of the many birds he sees in his yard, but all he ends up with are feathers for lunch. Illustrated with Lois Ehlert’s colorful collage illustrations (including labels for the different types of birds and plants depicted), this picture book is a visual treat.
Fuddles by Frans Vischer (2011)
Fuddles is a fat, spoiled cat. But when he realizes that his life is the same day after day, he decides it’s time for an adventure. Fuddles trains for the dangers of the outside world, and when opportunity arises (in the guise of an open front door), he goes for it. Unfortunately, all his inside training has not properly prepared him to climb trees, fight dogs, or find his way home. Good thing he has a loving family who misses him just as much as he misses them. This charming story of an adventurous housecat is wonderfully complemented by Frans Vischer’s humorous illustrations of Fuddles and his big personality.
Glamourpuss by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by David Smaill (2015)
Glamourpuss lives with the gazillionaire Highhorsens, who shower her with gifts and expect nothing of her other than being glamourous. Then, one terrible day, a guest comes to stay at Glamourpuss’s mansion and brings Bluebelle—a dog who wears ridiculous outfits and does tricks. Glamourpuss is very put out by this new arrival, but when she realizes that Bluebell may not actually enjoy dressing up and doing tricks, she decides that it might be nice to take the dog under her wing.
Have You Seen My Cat? by Eric Carle (1987)
From master picture book creator Eric Carle comes the story of a little boy who travels around the world in search of his missing cat. Instead of his pet housecat, however, he is directed by each of the people he asks to a cat that is most definitely not his—a panther in Africa and a tiger in India, for example. Will he ever find his own cat?
Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda (2015)
Cat loses a tooth but is disappointed when the Tooth Fairy comes because he doesn’t get to meet her. After trying to trick the Tooth Fairy into coming back for another visit, Cat gets a special delivery and the promise of a meeting with the Tooth Fairy if he will help her. The text and illustrations of this book work together to tell a delightful, silly story: the narrator addresses Cat directly through the text, while Cat responds through the illustrations. If your little ones enjoy Cat’s adventures with the Tooth Fairy, don’t miss Here Comes the Easter Cat and Here Comes Santa Cat, Cat’s first two adventures.
Hero Cat by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Jo Ellen McAllister Stammen (2006)
Mother Cat is ready to have her kittens, but she can’t find a safe place to live. Finally, she stumbles upon an empty building, and there her five beautiful kittens are born. One day she leaves the kittens to go look for food, and when she returns home, the building is on fire. She races in, saving her kittens one by one and proving that maternal love can be just as powerful for animals as for humans. This wonderful picture book is based on the true story of a homeless mother cat who rescued her kittens from a burning building, and a brief author’s note and photograph of the cat family are included at the end of the story.
Hondo & Fabian by Peter McCarty (2002)
Hondo the dog and Fabian the cat spend the day doing their favorite things: Hondo goes to the beach with his friend, and Fabian stays home and plays with the baby. But their day ends together, just as it began, peacefully sleeping side by side. This Caldecott Honor winner is a supremely gentle view into the daily lives of pets.
How to Be a Cat by Nikki McClure (2013)
A kitten learns what it takes to be a cat by following the example of a wise adult cat. This visually stunning picture book features just one word on each page. The elaborate cut-paper illustrations were inspired by the artist’s old, blind cat.
How to Give Your Cat a Bath by Nicola Winstanley, illustrated by John Martz (2019)
This is a step-by-step guide to giving your cat a bath—only the five easy steps turn out not be so easy for a little girl attempting to bathe her cat, Mr. Flea. The illustrations of the mayhem that results from her attempts are hilarious, and the story’s conclusion is satisfying. As every cat lover knows, it’s best to just let your cat take care of bath time on its own.
I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein (2016)
A little gray housecat named Simon announces that he is a cat just like Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther, and Tiger. They, however, are quick to disagree, arguing that Simon is nothing like them. But when Simon points out that they aren’t very similar to one another either, they begin to highlight all they—and, it turns out, Simon—have in common. This is a charming story about cats big and small, and debut author-illustrator Galia Bernstein’s illustrations are absolutely delightful.
Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates (2015)
One day a composer named Moshe discovers a sound he has never heard on the street before—the mewing of a little lost kitten. Little Ketzel comes home with Moshe, where she keeps him company as he composes. When Moshe struggles to compose a piece for submission to a music contest, Ketzel dances across the piano’s keys to cheer him up and inadvertently composes her own piece of music. This charming book is based on a true story, and Amy June Bates’s illustrations perfectly capture kitten antics.
Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (2004)
In this Caldecott Medal winner, Kitten sees her first full moon and imagines that it is a little bowl of milk up in the sky. She tries to lick it, pounce on it, and chase it, but she never seems to be able to reach the milk. What will Kitten do? Despite its black-and-white palette, Kitten’s First Full Moon is lively and satisfying, like all of Kevin Henkes’s books. The simple story and text really allow the pictures to shine.
Little Beauty by Anthony Browne (2008)
A special gorilla, who has been taught sign language, signs to the keepers at the zoo that he wants a friend. They give him a tiny kitten named Beauty. Kitten and gorilla become the best of friends and do everything together, but when the gorilla lets his anger get the best of him, it is up to Beauty to save the day. This book is loosely based on the true story of the signing gorilla Koko and her little kitten friend. I adore the nonfiction picture book account of this friendship, Koko’s Kitten (1987).
Matilda’s Cat by Emily Gravett (2012)
Young Matilda just wants her cat to play with her—hide in boxes, ride bikes, wear funky hats—but he doesn’t like anything that Matilda likes. There is ONE thing that Matilda’s cat likes, though. This sweet story exemplifies the simple text and lovely, soft illustrations that Emily Gravett is known for.
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag (1928)
A very old, lonely women tells her husband that she would be happy if only she had a cat, so he sets off to find one for her. At last he comes to a hill where he finds “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats.” He decides that he will choose the prettiest cat to take home to his wife, but he has such a hard time choosing that he brings them all home. Of course, that’s simply too many cats for the old couple to care for, so the wife decides to let the cats choose who will stay. This results in a terrible quarrel, and when all is said and done, just one little kitten remains. Millions of Cats is a much beloved classic. Though the illustrations are all in black-and-white, they are quite engaging, and little ones will enjoy repeating the story’s refrain (“hundreds of cats . . .”) with you as you read.
Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif (2015)
When Miss Hazeltine opens a home for shy and fearful cats, cat owners drop off their shy felines, and strays arrive in droves, but among them all, Crumb stands out. Miss Hazeltine gives lessons to help the cats overcome their nerves, but Crumb stays hiding under the bed the whole time. Then Miss Hazeltine goes missing, and only Crumb knows where she might be. It is up to him to lead the other timid cats on a rescue mission. This is a sweet story about overcoming your fears with the help of a supportive friend; the illustrations are a little silly yet very appealing.
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner (2013)
This Caldecott Honor book by three-time Caldecott winner David Wiesner is—as is always the case with Wiesner’s books—elaborate, ingenious, thought-provoking, and funny. Mr. Wuffles, a black-and-white cat, discovers something interesting amidst his toys—a tiny spaceship filled with real aliens. Can the aliens escape from the clutches of Mr. Wuffles? This nearly wordless picture book (the aliens speak in symbols, so though there’s quite a bit of dialogue, it’s largely unintelligible) packs a tremendous punch!
Niblet & Ralph by Zachariah OHora (2018)
Niblet and Ralph, two cats that look almost alike, live in the same apartment building. One day each decides to visit the other one, but they miss each other and get stuck in the wrong home. When their young owners, Gemma and Dilla, return home from school, they quickly realize that though the cat in their apartment looks like their cat, it isn’t. Gemma and Dilla don’t know each other, but as they investigate the disappearance of Ralph and Niblet, a chance encounter brings them together and reveals the truth. This is a sweet story of friendship and cat mischief illustrated with Zachariah OHora’s characteristically bold, colorful pictures.
Pepper & Poe by Frann Preson-Gannon (2015)
Every day is a great day for Pepper—until the day a small kitten, Poe, joins the family. Then every day is a disaster. But when Poe gets into trouble, Pepper decides to take the kitten under her wing. Frann Preston-Gannon’s illustrations perfectly depict the relationship between Pepper and Poe and enrich the story’s simple text.
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (2010)
You might be looking skeptically at me right about now. Pete the Cat? Here's the thing about Pete: kids LOVE him—kids of all ages, backgrounds, and reading levels. And that tremendous popular appeal earns him a place on this list. You must listen to the song before you read the book (available for free download on the Pete the Cat website website). Then sing the story as you read to your children, confident that they are enjoying themselves and being reminded that no matter what you step in, it's all good! There are many Pete books now, but this is the first—and my favorite.
Six-Dinner Sid by Inga Moore (1991)
Sid, a black cat, lives in six different houses on the same street, moving from one to next so that he can have six dinners each night. Sometimes living in six houses is a lot of work (he has six different names to remember), but for the most part he loves his six beds, scratches, and dinners. Then one day Sid gets a cough, and each of his six families takes him to the vet, making the vet rather suspicious. Will the vet share Sid’s secret?
Small in the City by Sydney Smith (2019)
This is such an incredible book about being small and alone but being loved. I think this story demands that you read it without a synopsis, so I won’t provide one. I will just say that if you love picture books or cats or anything in between, you do NOT want to miss Small in the City. Sydney Smith’s illustrations are always phenomenal and especially so here. If you find that you love his work as much as I do, don’t miss The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Smith (2016), another book that is perfect for this cat list.
So Many Cats! by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Ellen Weiss (1985)
A family starts out with just one cat, but she is sad and lonely with no other cats in the house. So, they adopt a stray, who quickly has kittens, and soon there are five cats. Things continue to escalate until there are a dozen (and maybe more) cats living in the house. Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, also author of the Caldecott winner May I Bring a Friend?, was well known for her poetry, and she employed a jaunty verse in this entertaining story.
Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton (2008)
It’s the first day of Cat School, and Splat is nervous. He tries everything to convince his mom that he can’t go to school, but she ignores him. Finally, he decides to take his pet mouse, Seymour, with him for company. At school Splat learns that cats are awesome, like to climb trees, and . . . chase mice. Splat doesn’t understand this last lesson, but when Seymour emerges, all the other cats do just that. Not until Seymour comes to the rescue do they all learn a new lesson: cats don’t chase mice after all. This is the first book in the extremely popular Splat the Cat series of picture books and easy readers. Rob Scotton’s pictures are hilarious, featuring a fluffy Splat with crimped whiskers and a perpetual look of concern in his wide eyes.
Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole (2016)
In this wordless picture book, a cat takes advantage of an open window to head outside for an adventure, while his little boy worriedly looks for him around the city. The illustrations encourage readers to hunt for Spot in each of the meticulously drawn images.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Kate Berube (2016)
Nick has two cats, and the three of them do everything together—except read. When Nick reads to himself, the cats roll on his books and try to distract him, so he decides that he should teach them to read, too. He is successful with one of the cats, but the other one just hisses when Nick tries to teach him new words. What will it take to turn him into a reader? This is a sweet story about the power of books and reading to bring us together (and a good reminder that sometimes it takes a little bit of work to turn someone into a reader). Adult bibliophiles will enjoy the literary allusions throughout the story.
Three Little Kittens by Jerry Pinkney (2010)
Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney brings the nursery rhyme “The Three Little Kittens” to life in this stunning picture book. Pinkney’s lush, colorful illustrations are always a treat, and this book is no exception. The pictures are a little bit humorous (the anthropomorphized kittens wear lacy collars, bows, and scarves along with their mittens, and their mama wears a fancy dress and apron), playful, and expressive.
Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (2011)
This is an absolutely lovely story about a shelter cat who finds a new home, told in a series of haikus (or, as the author explains in a note at the start of the book, senryu, which is very similar to haiku but focuses on human nature instead of nature). Each short poem offers the cat’s perspective on life in the shelter, his new name (Won Ton), naptime, and every experience in between. This perspective will ring true for anyone who has ever owned a cat, and little ones will be completely amused by Won Ton’s take on life and Eugene Yelchin’s humorous illustrations.
And one bonus . . .
Moses the Kitten by James Herriot, illustrated by Peter Barrett (1984)
In this classic autobiographical tale (now sadly out of print) by veterinarian James Herriot—beloved for his animal stories for adults—a tiny black kitten is discovered in the rushes next to a pond on a bitterly cold day. Herriot rescues the kitten, who is barely alive, and brings it to a neighboring farmhouse, where the family vows to care for it. When he returns to the farm a few weeks later, he is concerned not to see the kitten anywhere. Then the farmer leads him over to the pigsty, where he finds the kitten nursing from a mother pig alongside all of her piglets. This is a rather long story, and the language is much more complex than what you generally find in picture books, but if you and your child can get past that, you will discover a charming, richly rewarding true story by a well-loved writer.