Nick Bruel first introduced Bad Kitty in picture book format in 2005 and she was immediately popular. Her alphabetical shenanigans returned with the introduction of Poor Puppy in a second picture book and then she found her true metier in illustrated chapter books with Bad Kitty Gets a Bath in 2008.
Over the years, Bad Kitty has starred in a number of humorous adventures, the later titles including some pointed commentary on refugee (kittens), the election (of cats), education (of cats) and Bad Kitty’s cell phone usage. Bad Kitty retains her stubborn nature and chaotic behavior throughout, and the latest incarnation of this perennially popular character is the reissue of her tantrums and adventures in full color.
Her latest book, published in full color, starts with Bad Kitty leisurely scrolling through her phone while her exasperated (and unseen) human asks her to help clean up or at least do something that’s not electronic! It’s decided, to Kitty’s shock, that she must have… a playdate and Strange Kitty is the selected “friend.” Strange Kitty, who wears a top hat and tie, talks (unlike Bad Kitty who communicates only in meows), and has a mouse friend, arrives with a stack of comics and eventually, after an eloquent flow of language, convinces Kitty to join them in a make-believe game of superheroes. This involves several activities for readers to participate in as well, like using a superhero name generator and following instructions to create a comic. The arrival of another friend, going by the name of Dr. Lagomorph, sets the game going and the trio enjoy a raucous game throughout the house, ending when Kitty gets a little over-enthusiastic and breaks the rules. It all ends happily however, with a rather sententious speech from the mouse and amends from Kitty—and the human’s discovery of just what their game has done to the house…
Bruel’s layout for the Bad Kitty chapter books alternates between spot illustrations with short paragraphs of text and more traditional comic panels, with the primary dialogue from Strange Kitty, Dr. Lagomorph, and Power Mouse. Kitty has retained her trademark look throughout the series, a skinny black cat with spiky fur, bulging yellow eyes, and a splash of white on her chest. Bad Kitty’s expressions are most often seen in their lack, as she stares blankly at Strange Kitty’s antics, occasionally shrugs, and periodically erupts into a frenzied attack. Most of the humor is a combination of the deadpan delivery of lengthy perorations from Strange Kitty and the rapid switch between Bad Kitty’s indifference and wild reactions. Bruel plunges fully into the imagination game in this book, cutting panels in half with the imagined superheroes and villains, sporting full armor and massive muscles, and the real “kids” playing in homemade costumes.
As I’ve watched Bad Kitty evolve over the years, I’ve personally found the later books to be a little repetitive and leaning more heavily on didactic lectures. The combination of illustration, text, and comic can be both a pro and a con, as it discourages some struggling readers who can’t handle the lengthier text and complex vocabulary as well as falling on the radar of “comics are not real books” parents, but also gives readers a little bit of extra challenge on adding more text to what appears to be an “easy” chapter book. In my experience, most young fans gravitate to the earlier titles, those which don’t necessarily include a “lesson.” However, the series as a whole continues to be wildly popular and this latest title will both get kids giggling and as well as giving a tip of the hat (Super Kitty’s hat of course) to parents and teachers concerned with excessive screen use, not to mention including some inside jokes for superhero fans.
While I would not introduce a new reader to the series with this title, it’s certainly worth adding to the collection; the only real drawback is that this and the other newly reissued full color titles are not yet available in library binding, only in hardcover, and they are less likely to last through multiple readings from eager young fans.
By Nick Bruel
Macmillan Roaring Brook, 2022
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)