“Pete the Cat! Pete the Cat! I want PETE THE CAT!”
I can still hear Sam’s voice plead with me to read him Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, by James Dean and Eric Litwin, over and over again as we sat on the green carpet at the preschool. The other kids in the classroom loved Pete the Cat as well, and were eager to join in whenever he made an appearance. To these little toddlers, Pete the Cat was a celebrity.
What I was surprised to find out after some research was that Pete the Cat is actually a celebrity outside of picture books as well. In fact, Pete became famous far before he made his debut in children’s literature. It all began when an artist named James Dean began drawing and painting pictures of his cat Pete in the early 2000s. Dean portrayed Pete as a scrawny black cat who engaged in a variety of activities and adventures, from drinking coffee to traveling to outer space. Today, some of Dean’s original Pete the Cat paintings sell for over $2,000.
So how did this strange obsession over one feline friend make its way into children’s books?
In 2008, Dean self-published his own children’s book called Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, which was created and illustrated by Dean and written by Eric Litwin. In 2011, Dean published the second book of the series, called Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes. In 2012, Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons was published, and most recently, in 2013, came Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses.
The most recent Pete the Cat picture books, including Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, come with links to the HarperCollins Publishers website, where you can download sing-along songs that accompany the books. On the website you can also find a Pete the Cat app, as well as printable activities and coloring sheets.
The book goes on to show Pete’s journey as his buttons pop off his shirt, one by one, and he continues to sing about his “three groovy buttons,” his “two groovy buttons,” his “one groovy button,” until finally he is left with no groovy buttons. However, Pete does not cry when he loses all of his buttons, because in the end he finds….
“Stuff will come and stuff will go, but do we cry? Goodness, no! We keep on singing. Buttons come and buttons go.”
This book, which targets preschool and younger elementary aged children, uses Pete the Cat’s happy-go-lucky attitude to emphasize the importance of staying positive despite circumstances and possessions. While the book itself is quite simple in its writing style and storyline, the contagious, carefree spirit of Pete the Cat himself is what has brought Pete the Cat to so many different media, from his original paintings to picture books to songs, apps, and more.
The series of Pete the Cat books not only gives us a look into how popular icons such as Pete enter the category of children’s literature, but it also shows us the rising popularity of interactive children’s books. By giving children the ability to see a character in a book, hear about that same character in a song, and then interact with him or her through an app or an activity page, children are able to experience a more enriching and engaging form of literature. And maybe, the more kids hear it, the more they will think of Pete the Cat’s enthusiastic reminder to keep on singing.