Paying attention and expecting the best with Mimi

h1 April 28th, 2010 by jules

“…It was a splendid performance. The crowd threw gifts of food at the man—chicken bones, tomatoes, eggs—which made beautiful patterns on his coat. ‘ART,’ the man cried, pulling a drumstick out of his sleeve, ‘is anything!…'”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

It makes me very happy when Shelley Jackson makes a children’s book, though I’m only familiar with her illustrations for 2007’s The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington. But, really. That was enough right there. What a most excellent book. Jackson’s out with a brand-new one she’s both written and illustrated, Mimi’s Dada Catifesto. It was released in April by Houghton Mifflin, and I know, I know: I featured a Houghton Mifflin book last week (and then before that), and I try to mix things up here at the ‘ol blawg in the way of different publishers, but they’ve got some great books this Spring.

This book is a force of nature is what it is. Kirkus has described it as no less than “completely spectac-
ular” and the artwork as “dazzling.” And I’d have to say I agree with them, which is why I’m excited to show you some art from it today.

What this book is, other than entirely entertaining and razzle-dazzling illustrated, as we’ve already established, is an introduction to dadaism. The Mimi of the book’s title is a cat who finally meets her human mate at the book’s close — or who finally gets a bowl of milk and becomes a genius or who teaches a pigeon something about art or have you misplaced your mustachios, madam? (This is dadaism we’re talkin’ about here.)

Mimi is a poor alley cat, living in the very tall hat (with two cockroaches living in the brim) that “blew off a rich man’s head. I was lucky he had a big head.” There are many cats in Zurich, Mimi tells us, and many artists but few artistic cats. Mimi’s best bud, Laszlo, a “cynical old pigeon,” tells Mimi to get a human already, but Mimi sneers: “Humans? Noisy things who can’t even lick their own toes…Do I look like a cat who comes running to whoever coos Kitty, kitty? For a cat with the soul of an artist, only an artist will do.”

Move over, Max. There’s an art-lovin’ feline in town.

(Really. You MUST click to enlarge to take in those details, not to mention the text.)

Well, I don’t want to give too much away, since this book is a true joy to take in with one’s own eyes, but essentially what happens is that Mimi, while looking for something to eat, wanders into an apartment from which are coming yells, bangs, thumps, and thought-provoking smells. It’s a dadaist, giving a splendid performance: “ART!” the man cries, “is anything! Umbrellas! Bow ties! False teeth! Only art that doesn’t look like art is art! GA GA UMBA, UMBA POO!” (This spread is pictured at the opening of this post.)

Mimi is moved.

Thus begins her attempts to woo the dadaist-human in an attempt to have more art in her life.

This is well-written: Funny, reverent (to the delightfully accidental and discordant style that is dadaism, that is), detailed, engaging, keeps readers on their toes. But the art really stands out (a beautiful anarchy abounds), Jackson stating in a what-is-Dada author’s note at the book’s close that “{t}his is a Dadaist book, and so, like the Dadaists, I borrowed from many famous works of art to make it” (Archy and Mehitabel, Seven Dada Manifestos, Pale Fire). She further elaborates on the artists who inspired her: John Heartfield, Hannah Höch, Marcel Duchamp (who inspired Mimi’s display of “ready-made” art), and Hugo Ball, Kurt Schwitters, and Raoul Hausmann, who inspired the sound poem Mimi creates in the story. Jackson herself uses what Publishers Weekly called “a richly chaotic montage of newsprint, paintings, fonts, and graphic design elements” to create these spreads. This is the type of picture book in which you spend a great deal of time merely taking in the endpages; in this case, before you even get to the title page, Mimi declares:

I am not writing this book to get famous but to give you some tips on living. Listen, kiddo: sometimes you stare at a black dot for an hour and nothing happens. But sometimes it gets up and walks across the floor. I like bugs. What I’m trying to say is, Pay attention and expect the best.

(Click to enlarge.)

A wild, rebellious, wonderful romp not to be missed.

* * * * * * *

MIMI’S DADA CATIFESTO. Copyright © 2010 by Shelley Jackson. Published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

5 comments to “Paying attention and expecting the best with Mimi”

  1. Okay, my head is spinning. I think I need to grow a moustache and practice licking my toes. Looking forward to checking out this “force of nature.” 🙂

  2. Oh, I love this! Can’t wait to read it.

  3. To quote Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly:


  4. The illustrations in this book look amazing, can’t wait to get a copy!

  5. […] check out this review by the wonderful blog “7 Impossible Things Before […]

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.