DON’T TRUST THE CAT
By: Kristen Tracy
Published: July 25, 2023
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
DON’T TRUST THE CAT is a silly switcheroo story like Freaky Friday or 13 Going on 30 but with a fifth grader and her cat. After a bad day at school, Poppy comes home and is stuck in the garage with her cat, Mitten Man. When she makes a wish, Mitten Man and Poppy switch bodies. As you can imagine, there is quite a bit of chaos, craziness, and ultimately, a lot of love.
Poppy is struggling with friends and trying out for the school play. When the magical switch happens, Poppy is now actually Mitten Man who knows nothing about going to school and managing friendships. Poppy makes a mess of things at school with her friends but gains new eighth-grade friends, but do they have an ulterior motive?
“What was I thinking when I agreed to this? My cat doesn’t know how to be a fifth grader.”
This chapter book offers all kinds of make-believe while also offering kids solutions when they struggle with their parents, friendships, or difficult days at school. Fifth grade can be difficult as kids start to become more independent while also wanting to be taken care of. When Poppy returns home to an unexpectedly locked house, she becomes angry with her mom and dad. This incident is what leads to the big switch and reminds Poppy that everyone makes mistakes and should be forgiven. Poppy learns how to handle disappointment and friendship struggles as well as learning it is okay to be bold and try new things.
“You’re doing great, Poppy, ” she says. “Just, when a bad thing happens, try your best not to make it worse.”
I think most kids will enjoy the silliness and the climatic lead-up to whether Poppy and Mitten Man will ever be able to switch back to their own bodies. But, they will also relate to real-life feelings of rejection, fear, and sadness. Tracy writes from the mind of a fifth grader and makes the story relatable for kids.
Kristen Tracy grew up in a small town in Idaho, near Yellowstone Park, where she learned a tremendous amount about bears. Her deep curiosity in all things, a love of language, and her desire to eat less potatoes led her to exit Idaho and earn an M.A. in American Literature, an M.F.A. in poetry, and a Ph.D. in English. Her poetry manuscript, Half-Hazard, earned the prestigious Emily Dickinson First Book Award from the Poetry Foundation, and her poems have appeared in dozens of literary journals including the New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, and Southern Review. She writes board books, picture books, middle-grade novels, and Young Adult books. At one time in her life, she was a college professor and aerobics instructor. At another time she was a volunteer gardener on Alcatraz and aspiring bird docent. Now she makes her home in Los Angeles with her husband Brian Evenson and their young son. If you ever go hiking with Kristen, please be aware she attracts seriously injured birds, apex predators, and large, nonvenomous snakes.