As a child, I spent several seasons in summer camp, and I loved it. I shared a cabin with 25 kids — some I liked a lot, some I wasn’t crazy about. But as the final days of summer approached, I started thinking more about all the kids with whom I wasn’t very friendly and had little in common. I hung out with them more. We talked. We played. We laughed. We shared.
I realized there was good in everybody, even if I perceived some superficial deficiency or didn’t see their goodness from my silly childish perch. While I knew I was going to miss this life, I now knew I was going to miss the sum of its parts, which included these particular kids.
Maybe that’s something the Thinker cats eventually came to understand when they set a trap to do away with their rival Jumper cats in Matt Bell’s charming Crazy Cats from Outer Space (Covenant Books), which sends an important message to the book’s target audience of elementary and reluctant middle-school readers.
I tried to get in front of tainted beliefs in my camp days, but not the Thinker cats. As they lament: “I guess one doesn’t appreciate what they have until it is gone!”
THINKER CATS AND JUMPER CATS
The Thinker cats and the Jumper cats live on a planet inhabited only by cats. The Thinker cats — who tend to be grumpy by their nature — like to “sit around all day thinking and then chatting about what they think about and coming up with new civilized ideas and ways to behave.”
The Jumper cats, predictably, spend all day running, jumping and playing. Great for them, those happy-go-lucky souls; not so great for the Thinkers, whose chat groups are overrun by the playful Jumpers, causing them to lose focus and get more grumpy. Ah, the age-old intersection of introverts and extroverts!
So what do the Thinker cats do? They get together and (you got it) think about what they should do to eliminate the unintentionally interruptive tendencies of the Jumpers. They concoct a plan to lure the Jumpers into a pyramid-shaped spaceship and send them to another planet.
But a funny thing happens when the Jumper cats are gone: The Thinker cats remain grumpy! “The planet just wasn’t the same without them. The Thinkers missed the Jumpers. They hadn’t known how much they would miss them.”
Putting their thinking caps on again, they decide to build a pyramid spaceship of their own and see if they can find their Jumper friends.
HOW THE EGYPTIANS AND MAYANS GOT THEIR PYRAMIDS
As it turns out, the Jumpers’ pyramid spaceship lands on a part of the earth populated with ancient Egyptians. The Thinkers end up on a different part of the earth populated by ancient Mayans. Bell doesn’t miss a trick. Is it any coincidence that the Egyptians believed that cats had magical powers, and that the jaguar was a powerful symbol for the Mayans? Or that both civilizations had pyramids as part of their sacred architecture?
The Thinkers never reconnect with the Jumpers, but both groups find contentment, to the point where the Thinkers even jump a little and the Jumpers even think a little now and then.
As he does in his previous books, Bell offers discussion questions for children:
- Thinking of yourself, are you more of a Thinker or a Jumper?
- Do you believe that the Thinker cats should have tricked the Jumper cats like that, just so they could have peace and quiet?
- Why do you think that the Thinker cats ended up missing the Jumper cats and followed after them?
It’s clear that Bell knows how to reach the hearts and minds of children. Kids will get a quick, fun lesson on the value of people who on the surface may seem very different but actually have much to offer.
The Absurdity of Prejudice in The Jellies and the Crunchers
Fighting Exclusion and Building Community in The Rounders and the Tallers