Daniel visits students at New Hope Elementary in Chapel Hill, NC:
A Pre-K classroom reinterprets The Cat’s Pajamas:
I’m a novelist—at least that’s what I call myself sometimes. It’s great to actually be something and to have a name for what you are; it makes life much simpler. Farmer, baker, astronaut, kleptomaniac—it almost doesn’t matter as long as you’re something, and you can tell people what that something is.
The truth is, though, I just like words. I like the way they sound, what they mean, where they come from, and what happens when you put a lot of them together one after the other.
Which brings me to The Cat’s Pajamas.
The Cat’s Pajamas is an illustrated exploration of the etymology of a very common expression, or lingo, which is a great word in and of itself: He thinks he’s the cat’s pajamas! Or (you might say to that special someone), Baby, you’re the cat’s pajamas.
Seriously? The cat’s pajamas? That’s a good thing? Why? Is that something you’re sure you want to be? Who coined this expression? What was his or her intent? These are some of the things I think about when I hear words, especially words like these, words like the cat’s pajamas. And, as a lifelong fan of myth, of folk tales, of inventive storytelling, I assume that behind every crazy, unbelievable fiction there’s something that’s actually real, something that happened, someone who a long time ago and in a land far, far away, did something a lot like that something we imagine today as being purely fantastic, incredible, ridiculous.
I’ll just come right out and say it: I believe there was a time when cats wore pajamas.
How could there not have been? No one says, You’re the dog’s underpants, because dogs never wore underpants. But cats obviously wore pajamas. It’s as clear as day.
I have pictures that prove it. Prove may be too strong a word because, yes, I’ve drawn these pictures. And I continue to draw them. They’re interpretive. They’re authentic reproductions from the imaginary historical record. Does that make them less true than, say, a fossil? Perhaps. Still, I am not an archeological paleontologist. I’m a novelist, one who likes to draw.
This is a book that I want to see in the world. This is a book that should be in the world. Thank you for helping it come to life.
In a world full of cats who looked alike, talked alike, and, most importantly, dressed alike, there was Louis Fellini. He was different sort of cat.
This happened a long time ago when cats lived in houses and went to school and had to go to work in a city full of cats and all the daddy cats wore the same suits and ties, and mommy cats wore the same kinds of dresses. Teeny-tiny kittens wore itty-bitty kitty underpants, and the cats who were boys and girls wore the same socks and shoes and t-shirts and shorts. Why? Because that’s how it had been since anyone could remember, and no one had the that special something, that crazy spark, that who-cares-what-the-other-cats-think drive for something new, something different, something all your own and nobody else’s. It’s always like this until somebody comes along to shake things up.
“Can’t somebody around here be a little different?” he yowled from to time to time.
Well, Louis could.
Oh, yes, Louis could.
He was a special cat, and he had been a special kitten, too.
When he was a kitten, he didn’t wear the itty-bitty kitty underpants all his kitten friends did. Louis insisted on wearing a grass skirt for pants and a paper bag for a shirt, which nobody ever wore. It was his idea, and he liked it, and if he was a little different, well, so much the better.
This embarrassed his parents so much they almost never let him outside when there were other cats around, which meant they could never go on picnics (cats used to love to go on picnics) but that was okay with Louis. He was different, and if that meant staying inside a little more than other cats did, he could do it, with ease.
But when he started going to school, there was not much his parents could do. His mother and father both worked, and had to leave the house early, before Louis went off to school. And Louis being Louis, he would simply not dress the way the other cats did. Primarily because he wasn’t the other cats. He was himself, his own cat...