A less-than-purrfect collaborator
Chester’s Masterpiece is my new favorite picture book! It’s funny and creative, and never have I been so entertained by a book before the very first page. Even the title page and copyright page are hilarious—and be sure to read every last word!
The opening pages are where all the action starts, with a note to readers from author/illustrator Mélanie Watt’s cat, Chester:
“I am thrilled to announce that Mélanie Watt will NO longer be writing or illustrating children’s books because of a toothache and some technical difficulties. So, I will now gladly replace her!
P.S. I hid Mélanie’s art supplies and computer mouse.”
Chester has hijacked the book, it turns out, and he continues his hijinks throughout, working with a red magic marker to create comical writing and drawings on every page.
Chester and Mélanie communicate (argue) on each spread, with Chester writing in red and Mélanie commenting on yellow post-it notes. On the opening page, Mélanie’s post-it demands: “Chester!!! I need to make this book. Now tell me where all my stuff is this instant!!!” Chester responds by telling her to stop writing the notes, and by revving up his audience: “Readers, are you ready for the best, most ORIGINAL story you have ever read in your entire 9 lives?”
The back-and-forth dialogue between Chester and Watts continues nonstop, and with the help of the red magic marker, it’s always easy to tell which art and words Chester has created, and what comes from the hand of the human.
Meanwhile, the dialogue is also a meaningful discussion of what it takes to create a book: choices about genre, setting, heroes, villains and endings. This repartee mirrors in an exaggerated way what sometimes goes on between writer and editor, with Mélanie chiding that Chester’s second attempt has “the same kind of rude, unhappy ending” as his first draft, while Chester rolls on the floor with his eyes closed, pronouncing, “It’s artistic expression!”
Chester’s Masterpiece is indeed a wonderful example of creative artistic expression, and it’s a must-have for any number of readers: fun-loving kids, young students of art and writing, cat lovers in general and, really, anyone with a sense of humor.
Head to a bookstore and tell them Chester sent you.
Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.