With lush art by two-time NYT Best Illustrated recipient Violeta Lópiz, a picture book about a boy and his larger-than-life immigrant grandfather, who shares with him the kind of learning that’s not taught in classrooms.
★ A New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2023! ★ A NYPL Best Children's Book of 2023! ★ A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2023!
At six years old, the child-narrator of this picture book loves nothing more than spending time with his grandpa, Luis—especially in his marvelous garden, where green beans reach as high as the sky. Luis’s garden is where the little boy practices reading and writing. But just as importantly, it’s also where he learns wonderful things from Luis, like the names of all the birds in the trees and new expressions that are so much fun to say. Luis's playful vocabulary is as vibrant and full of life as his garden, and phrases that are particular to his way of talking, like "at the drop of a cat" (which means right away), are soon adapted into the little boy's lexicon, too.
A talented cook, artist, and gardener, Luis has much wisdom to impart and many experiences to share with his grandson—even though, as a war refugee, he never went to school himself and never learned to read and write. A loving testament to the intergenerational transmission of knowledge and the breathtaking beauty of the natural world, illustrated with evocative, multilayered art by Violeta Lópiz.
★ A New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2023! ★
”Lópiz’s lush, verdant and empathetic art depicts both their shared interests and the differences that separate them. As grandson and grandfather grow closer, Lópiz gradually pulls back the thick vegetation, creating space for them to show each other their true selves, and show readers something all of us are searching for: a purely human connection.” —Christopher Lassen, member of the 2023 NYT/NYPL Best Illustrated jury & NYPL children’s librarian
★ A New York Public Library Best Children's Book of 2023! ★
“In this heartwarming story translated from French, lush illustrations provide a verdant backdrop as a young child lovingly speaks about his grandfather. Luis, a Spanish refugee living in France, never learned to read or write, nonetheless his grandson admires his many talents.” —New York Public Library
★ A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2023! ★
★ “A dark-haired, pale-skinned 6-year-old adores spending time with their grandfather, whom they call Luis. The sensitively written text reveals Luis’ struggles without presenting him as lesser. The young narrator loves how Luis mixes up idioms, the source of the book’s title. Because Luis fled Spain as a child during ‘a terrible war’ and had to work to support himself in France, he never went to school or learned to read and write. Although early on, the narrator informs us, ‘I’m learning to read and write,’ this does not turn into a story centered on Luis’ illiteracy. The grandchild lovingly details their grandfather’s appreciation for birds, cats, and the natural world as well as his many skills, like gardening, cooking, playing guitar, and painting. ‘Dad says Luis is as good as Henri Rousseau,’ the text reads, which provides insight into the artistic inspiration behind Lópiz’s lush, naïve style and flat aesthetic. By book’s end, the narrator can read well, and Luis celebrates this accomplishment with a gift that reinforces their special bond and brings this stunning and tender tale to a satisfying conclusion. Warmhearted and affirming—one to pick up.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
“Lópiz shows in lush, dreamy illustrations the magic of the world Luis shares with the boy. A wonder-filled landscape of flowers, birds, aromatic meals, and cranky cats, it is also a world far beyond what can be taught in a classroom. Showing love and admiration across generations, this sweet title can be a guide for the appreciation of the natural world and the quiet love of family. This lovely purchase is a gentle yet effective work; its story and rich, complex illustrations highlight the joy of sharing the natural world that exists between a boy and his beloved grandfather.” —School Library Journal
“A six-year-old narrates this reflection about a cherished grandparent... Luis is a miraculous gardener with an intimate knowledge of wildlife. Artist Lópiz (The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It) places colorful silhouettes of leaves and birds within the contours of Luis’s face, behind his bushy moustache and serious eyes... The dense foliage that twines through the art mirrors the rich thicket of the grandchild’s thoughts and the grandfather’s knowledge as the two spend time together, sharing Luis’s idiosyncratic idioms ('At the drop of a cat') and celebrating the child’s success in a lushly produced book that asks where worth really lies.” —Publishers Weekly
"Lópiz’s beautifully composed, exquisitely controlled illustrations burst with color, capturing impressions and moments with graceful lines and evocative, layered patterns and textures. There is a particularity to the story and characters that makes this book most memorable and spellbinding." —Julie Danielson, The Horn Book
★ “The text is lyrical and lengthy; I would almost describe this as an illustrated short story... This book was lovely, absorbing, and wistful without being cloying. The lack of a name or gender for the child will give the book even more resonance for all readers. The child also describes Luis’s art (‘Dad says Luis is as good as Henri Rousseau and he is a really famous painter’) and I assumed that the beautiful illustrations were, in fact, Luis’s drawings that he and the child work on together in the book. They look to be a mix of watercolor and collage, full of the green leaves of Luis’s garden, naive, and easy to interpret with many fascinating details. The child and the grandfather appear repeatedly, with the smaller human nestled inside the outline of the bald, big-nosed grandpa. This will be a wonderful one-to-one read aloud with an adult. The translators have done a great job here; originally published in French, this English translation flows beautifully. I was fascinated by the author’s ability to present hard truths in such a joyful and plain manner. The book manages to be equal parts moving and funny.” —Susan Harari (Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA), Youth Services Book Review, STARRED REVIEW
"Verdant, layered artwork by Violeta Lópiz brings a sense of mysticism to At the Drop of a Cat, a picture book by Élise Fontenaille in which a 6-year-old boy describes his relationship with his grandfather, Luis... Against a backdrop of lush, plant-filled pictures, the child explains that Luis had left his home in Spain at the age of 11 and walked overland until he reached safety in France... As the child chatters on, readers ages 4-8 find out more about Luis’s life experiences while also coming to appreciate the things the old man can teach his grandson: songs in Spanish, guitar chords and the difference between edible and poisonous plants... Translated from the French by Karin Snelson and Emilie Robert Wong, At the Drop of a Cat is the sort of picture book that seems intended to awaken empathetic feelings and a child’s aesthetic senses." —Wall Street Journal
“French author Élise Fontenaille and illustrator Violeta Lópiz present their own distinctive take on friendship and connection with At the Drop of a Cat, a meditation on the relationship between the book’s six-year-old narrator and his grandpa Luis, a gardener, artist and refugee who fled war in his home country of Spain. Lópiz’s stunning illustrations take readers at child’s eye-level into Luis’s luscious garden, reminiscent of Henri Rousseau’s paintings, with whom Luis’s own art is compared. Luis may be illiterate, but he’s wise and inspiring, and his grandson enjoys his poetically muddled phrases (the book’s title is Luis’s version of “at the drop of a hat”). Nature-themed picture books have flourished in recent times but this is something special: Lópiz’s fluid, overlapping designs really magnify the sense of the pair being at one with the land and each other.” —The Guardian
“A bright and immeasurably tender celebration of the many languages of love comes from French author Élise Fontenaille and Spanish artist Violeta Lópiz in their lovely collaboration At the Drop of a Cat… Radiating from the pages is the great tenderness that blooms between the young boy and the old man as they try to understand each other, to inhabit each other’s inner garden… The loveliest thing I have seen in a very long time.“ —Maria Popova, The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings)
“A young boy shares his observant and abundant appreciation for his grandpa, Luis, in this picture book originally published in France… Love—unstated yet obvious–radiates from every page of a child-centered story set against distinct, expressive illustrations celebrating the natural world that—along with his grandson—clearly brings Luis joy.” —Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
"Violeta Lópiz uses the technique of painting on transparencies and then layering the transparencies to create fabulous illustrations. Just like the layered illustrations, there is so much depth in this story. The loving relationship between a grandson and grandfather, make it a perfect book for an intergenerational storytime. This is also a story of words, art, and music; of spending time together in the garden; and of a grandchild learning to read, something their grandfather did not have the opportunity to learn... I found myself reading At the Drop of a Cat over and over again." —Paula Holmes, for World Kid Lit