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Review: Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret
By Bob Shea


ISBN: 9781484713785
Grades K-2
Out May 5, 2015

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

*Best New Book*

There are plenty of early reader greats, from Frog and Toad to Little Bear to The Cat in the Hat,  but compared to other types of books, the number of truly noteworthy books that arrive in the early reader category is much lower than I’d like. So when a series as funny, modern, and engaging as Ballet Cat comes along, I take notice. And you should too – it’s an early reader must-have.

Sparkle Pony has a secret. A secret secret: he doesn’t always want to play ballet. This is tough information to break it to his friend Ballet Cat (who, as you might guess, is a fan of all things leaping, kicking, and spinning). But after Pony confesses to his friend, it turns out that there’s something Ballet Cat loves even more than ballet too.

Shea strikes me as a guy who could get really far out if he wanted to, yet always knows where the line is. As usual, his restraint is perfect here. If he pushed too far, things could go into cynical territory, which would cheapen the real emotional anchor of the story – the fact that sometimes it’s hard to be honest, even (and maybe especially) to a friend.

I think the world has been waiting for a book to recommend to fans of Elephant & Piggie. Ballet Cat strikes me as a great book to recommend to fans of Mr. Willems. And I don’t mean that as a backhanded complement. Ballet Cat and Sparkle Pony are quite different than E&P, but they share a similar sense of humor and heart. It’s a tone that rings true.

Personal bias – I love it when illustrations can push the limits of simplicity while still getting the job done. It’s amazing what Shea does with a think black line and the occasional splash of color atop a vibrantly blank background. Shea is all, “Nope, I’m not going to color in Sparkle Pony – whatever the background color is, that’s what’s showing through.” Cheeky simplicity that works well.

So based on this first book, consider my hopes high for this series. Go ahead and add this to your collection already – you’ll be happy you did. Let the 2016 Geisel watch begin.

Review copy from the publisher

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. OOOH.

  2. Yay! I got an ARC of this! But I might not have realized I need to read it RIGHT AWAY, if not for your review. It looks awesome!