A 110-Year-Old Book Illustrated with Photos of Kittens & Cats Taught Kids How to Read


Unlike our 21st-cen­tu­ry cat memes and oth­er such online feline-based enter­tain­ments, children’s author Eulalie Osgood Grover’s 1911 work, Kit­tens and Cats: A First Read­er was intend­ed to edu­cate.

Its relat­ed poems will almost cer­tain­ly strike those of us whose under­stand­ing of feline atti­tude has been shaped by LOL­CatsGrumpy Cat, the exis­ten­tial Hen­ri, Talk­ing Kit­ty Cat’s acer­bic Sylvester, and the mor­dant 1970s TV spokescat Mor­ris as sweet to the point of sick­ly. But it boasts six hun­dred vocab­u­lary words, a rhyme struc­ture that pro­motes read­ing aloud, and a note to teach­ers with sug­ges­tions for class­room activ­i­ties.

Grover explained how her feline cast of char­ac­ters would win over even the most reluc­tant read­er, inspir­ing “much the same delight to the lit­tle read­er of juve­nile fic­tion, as do adven­ture and romance to the grown-up read­er”:

In one respect kit­tens take prece­dence over dolls. They are alive. They must be treat­ed kind­ly. They will not bear the abuse and neglect giv­en to many beau­ti­ful dolls. They demand atten­tion and com­pan­ion­ship, and they return a real devo­tion in return for kind­ness and care. There­fore we love them and espe­cial­ly do our chil­dren love them and delight in sto­ries of them.

The loose­ly struc­tured sto­ry con­cerns a grand par­ty thrown by the Queen of the Cats. Fol­low­ing some breath­less prepa­ra­tions, the guests take turns intro­duc­ing them­selves to her majesty, though unlike T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Prac­ti­cal Cats (1939), there’s not much that could be cob­bled into a hit musi­cal.

Grover flesh­es out the nar­ra­tive with call­backs to a num­ber of cat-rich nurs­ery rhymes — Hick­o­ry Dick­o­ry DockThree Lit­tle Kit­tensHey Did­dle Did­dleAs I Was Going to St. IvesDing Dong Bell

One lace-bon­net­ed char­ac­ter is rem­i­nis­cent of Tom Kit­ten’s moth­er, Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, and her unsuc­cess­ful attempts to wran­gle her ram­bunc­tious off­spring into cloth­ing fit for “fine com­pa­ny,” though the wit falls some­what short of Beat­rix Potter’s.

Head­gear abounds, as do restric­tive buntings that must’ve been a great help when deal­ing with unco­op­er­a­tive mod­els and long expo­sures.

Although the pho­tog­ra­ph­er is uncred­it­ed, the images are like­ly the work of Har­ry Whit­ti­er Frees, a “pio­neer of the anthro­po­mor­phic kit­ten pho­to­graph genre” as per the New York Dai­ly News. In his intro­duc­tion to his far more ambi­tious­ly posed 1915 work, The Lit­tle Folks of Ani­mal Land, Frees allud­ed to his process:

The dif­fi­cul­ties of pos­ing kit­tens and pup­pies for pic­tures of this kind have been over­come only by the exer­cise of great patience and invari­able kind­ness. My lit­tle mod­els receive no espe­cial train­ing, and after their dai­ly per­for­mance before the cam­era they enjoy noth­ing more than a good frol­ic about the stu­dio.

That’s a pleas­ant thought, though his­to­ri­an and post­card col­lec­tor Mary L. Wei­gley tells a some­what dif­fer­ent tale in an arti­cle for Penn­syl­va­nia Her­itage, describ­ing how only 3/10 of his neg­a­tives could be pub­lished, and his work was so “chal­leng­ing, time-con­sum­ing and nerve-wrack­ing” that he took 9 months out of every year to recu­per­ate.


Down­load a free copy of Eulalie Osgood Grover’s Kit­tens and Cats here.

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Preda­tor to Sofa Side­kick

Why Humans Are Obsessed with Cats

GPS Track­ing Reveals the Secret Lives of Out­door Cats

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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