Birdie, a second grader we met in the first Crafty Cat book, is back for a second set of gentle adventures. Birdie is a craft enthusiast and sometimes pretends to become “Crafty Cat,” a kind of crafting superhero who is not only very good at crafting, but can also use her skills for making people feel good. At the beginning of this story, Birdie is excited because there will be a special Monster Craft Camp at school on a Saturday, and she and her friend Evan are going.
Monster Craft Camp proves to be disappointing in many ways, however. Birdie discovers that she has built up the event in her mind a little too much (the school looks the same as always, and none of her crafts will be appearing on TV), and not only that, but mean girl Anya is going to be there all day as well. Anya’s abrasive mannerisms and negative attitude ruin one of Birdie’s group projects and cast a pall over the entire morning. Things start to look especially bleak when Birdie accidentally destroys one of her best creations during a post-lunch dodgeball game. Can Birdie (or Crafty Cat) turn things around with the power of crafting?
In terms of plot, this is very simple, gentle, and well suited for first or second graders (or any sensitive reader). Anya’s mean comments, a misunderstanding between Birdie and Evan, and life’s disappointments, like falling during a game of dodgeball, are the only elements that provide conflict and strife. The narrator, whose comments are sometimes at the top of a panel and shaded in blue, provides a source of comfort to counter these negative elements by saying things like, “Don’t worry, Birdie. There’s still plenty of time to impress C.C. with your crafty skills,” and “Be strong, Birdie. Ask for what you want.”
Birdie shows a high level of emotional strength and fortitude when dealing with anger. When Birdie gets angry at Anya she wants to roar, but she holds it in for twenty pages until she is alone outside at recess. Then she roars. Later in the book, after yet another encounter with Anya, Birdie is asked a question by the narrator and responds, “Wait. I just need a second to get over Anya. Okay, done.” Disappointment is harder for Birdie, as is the misunderstanding with Evan, both of which come into play in the aftermath of the dodgeball game. The book is about crafts and crafting on the surface, but really, the whole thing is about gaining control over one’s emotions and doing emotional work. That’s probably why Anya is such a flat, one-dimensional character—the focus is on Birdie and her emotional labor, so Anya’s backstory and the reasons behind her negativity and abrasiveness aren’t important.
The artwork is extremely simple. Backgrounds are nearly nonexistent; Birdie’s world is mostly filled with people and crafts. Panels are sparse as well, only appearing when it is absolutely necessary to add enough structure to a page so a reader can follow the plot. Text is well placed and orderly, making it accessible to young readers. Sometimes it is placed in a fan-shaped group, but only in circumstances during which the statements can be read in any order, and are meant to be interpreted as a rush of words or thoughts.
Kids in 1st through 3rd grade who enjoy stories centering on characters’ thoughts and emotions will like this one. Birdie’s rich inner life will appeal to kids who enjoy Sara Varon’s work, but aren’t quite ready for the length and complexity of titles like Real Friends or Smile.
Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis
by Charise Mericle Harper
First Second, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 7-12