Hard Hat Cat

Jamie Kif­fel-Alcheh, Max­ine Lee (illus.)

  • Review
By – May 20, 2020

Many Jew­ish chil­dren in the Unit­ed States have an image of Israel, which comes from news head­lines, Hebrew school class­es, or tourists’ accounts. These impres­sions are often skewed; they present only a small slice of the com­plex life in the vibrant, mod­ern Israeli cul­ture where chil­dren, sim­i­lar to the read­er, live dai­ly lives that are dif­fer­ent than and yet par­al­lel to their own. It is always refresh­ing to find a sto­ry writ­ten for Amer­i­can chil­dren which reflects every­day Israel in a way that is both char­ac­ter­is­tic, yet familiar.

This sim­ple pic­ture book about a young Israeli boy who feeds a stray kit­ten near a con­struc­tion site address­es a uni­ver­sal theme but has an authen­tic Israeli fla­vor. Young Ari feeds the aban­doned kit­ten and wor­ries about its future, hop­ing to find a fam­i­ly who will adopt the lit­tle cat and will care for it with love. The sto­ry uses Hebrew terms in a nat­ur­al and unforced way, blend­ing the Hebrew vocab­u­lary seam­less­ly into the tale. While roam­ing the streets, the kit­ten pass­es a felafel stand, the local borekas man, and the shuk. Israel is known for its stray cat pop­u­la­tion and Ari’s saf­ta (grand­moth­er) and doda (aunt) tell him about the many street cats prowl­ing the cities. Ari is over­joyed when he finds a fam­i­ly who wants to adopt the kit­ten and care for it, blend­ing the sto­ry’s theme of Israeli life with the impor­tant Jew­ish val­ue of kind­ness to all liv­ing beings.

The bold, bright illus­tra­tions are an inte­gral part of this col­or­ful pic­ture of Israeli life. Round-faced, smil­ing, live­ly peo­ple reflect the diver­si­ty of Israel’s pop­u­la­tion, red-roofed hous­es evoke Israeli cities and towns, and the appeal­ing kit­ten will make young read­ers wish for pets of their own.

An author’s note tells read­ers that the sto­ry is based on her own per­son­al encounter with a stray kit­ten in Israel and a glos­sary of the Hebrew terms used in the sto­ry is included.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions