Kat and Juju written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani
Two Lions, 2020, 48 pages
Kat is a girl who like to do things her own way. Like coloring inside the lines or telling her secrets to trees instead of a friend. It’s not that she doesn’t want a friend, she’s just too shy to talk to anyone and come out of her shell. Of course, that makes for a lonely Kat. But when her birthday rolls around, she knows it will be the best ever because that’s the day Kat’s best friend will arrive. And sure enough, on the birthday, a big orange bird named Juju arrives, and just as she knew it would be so, Kat and Juju are instant best friends.
But wait! Juju, it turns out, has his own way of doing things. Like coloring outside the lines and being silly and laughing loudly. Juju is fearless and, unlike Kat who is afraid of what the the other kids wonder about her, he didn’t care what anyone thinks about him. Juju likes to let go and do a happy dance, and if everyone laughed, so what?
He tries so hard to teach Kat to be brave, but she still worries about what other people would think about her, including Juju. Then one day, something unexpected stops both Kat and Juju in their tracks. Could this helpless baby bird be just what Kat needs to help her come out of her shell, to stop thinking about herself and to care for it?
Kat and Juju is a charming story with an important message for kids – it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to be an introvert, and it doesn’t mean the other kids won’t like you. And by taking care of the baby bird she and Juju find, Kat learns how to provide the bird with the same kind of support and confidence that Juju was trying to give her and that friends would also give. It’s amazing how much personal growth Kat experiences in this sensitive picture book.
The author studied animation and that really shows in the illustrations. From the large orange Juju to the big bow in Kat’s hair, and the three diverse friends, there is whimsy and humor throughout, despite the seriousness of the message.
I had one small problem with Kat and Juju. I just wasn’t sure what Juju is supposed to be – a large stuffed toy? An imaginary playmate? Any ideas? I have to be honest about this – my younger readers didn’t question this the way I did. They seemed ok with just accepting that Juju showed up at Kat’s door on her birthday. And they loved the story. We read it over Zoom and I can’t wait to share it with them in person.
MEET THE AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR
Kataneh Vahdani is a children’s book author and illustrator. Kat and Juju is her first picture book series. She is currently directing her original feature animation movie. Kataneh has been a professor for over seventeen years and she also saves fallen baby birds and rescues them. Together with her students, they have raised over 12 fallen injured baby birds and set them free once they were ready to fly away. Sometimes in her classes, birds fly from the head of one student to the other.
This book is recommended for readers age 4+