Written and Illustrated by Bob Shea
Balzer + Bray, 2013
Hooray! It’s big race day!
Did You Know? Cheetahs are the only big cats who cannot roar.
The two little cats are excited about race day and the fact that there will be multiple races, but Cheetah says he will win all of them. The first race is flower jumping and Cheetah wins, receiving the prize of heavy wooden winner’s shoes. The next race is pie-eating, which Cheetah also wins after eating five pies. The prize is an ice cream sundae, which he also eats, causing him some stomach trouble. The next race is yarn pouncing, where he wins a big bunch of balloons. In the next race, he wins a big crown for correctly guessing the number that one of the cats was thinking of. Finally, it’s time for the big race. Cheetah tries to run in his wooden block shoes, with his big bunch of balloons and heavy crown, but he trips and falls. The two cats win easily but then Cheetah asks if he won and if their cheers are for him. Feeling bad for tricking him, the two cats give him their medals and tell him he did win. Cheetah tells them they are lucky to have a friend like him.
Author/illustrator Bob Shea just seems to always be having the best time when he’s sharing a story and he never talks down to his audience, which I love. His books are very funny in a way that I imagine sometimes reads differently for children than it does for adults and I admire anyone who can create art that works on different levels. Kids may or may not pick up on the little cats sabotaging Cheetah’s efforts to win the big race by manipulating the events of all the other races, but adults will definitely figure it out.
As with most of his books, the artwork features bold colors and very little background art. There are lots of great facial expressions and awesome word choices (such as when Cheetah tells the cats that he has skills and is ‘skilly.’ The book seems to be steering down an anti-bragging path, but the ending takes it into unexpected territory, with a message of compassion and acceptance. I’ve seen plenty of criticism online for the book’s ‘mixed message’ and I agree that it would have been nice to see Cheetah learn something here but I actually really liked this surprise ending and its lesson, that winning a race is not worth losing a friend over. I think everyone has those friends who never seem to get it and deciding to accept them, warts and all, is a lovely message.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that winning is pretty meaningless if everyone isn’t playing by the same rules.