When Paul McPharlin died in 1948, he left behind a collection of silhouettes he had envisioned as a children's book. With meticulous care, he used scissors to cut intricate designs from black paper, similar to the art form developed in 18th-Century France and named after Etienne de Silhouette, a minister of finance and amateur portraitist.
In this instance, McPharlin made 26 cats in various cat poses, all dramatic in their elegance and simplicity, and reminiscent of Asiatic shadow play. When you consider the task of snipping and unfolding little scraps of paper until a story of sorts results, it gives us another level of art to admire. In an interesting but lengthy introduction, Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin talks about her husband's life and says these cutouts, done around 1924, now form "an alphabet book of rhymes." Each page has one cat with a four-line poem, some grating to the ear but others charming as they reveal feline temperament. "Stroke his back, he'd twist and land/ And scratch your face or arm and hand./ Speak to him, he spat and hissed/ Ogre was a misanthropist."
Unfortunately, this will be lost on preschoolers who love and need the stimulation of color. Yes, these kitties are named from A to Z, but this does not succeed as an alphabet book. Beginning readers need to see, for example, an oversized "U" next to an object starting with "U" rather than just another cat whose name starts with "U" (Udine). The rhymes accompanying Angelica, Bernice and Cherry might give adults a chuckle, but children won't relate to them as ABCs, and it's doubtful they'll appreciate the sophisticated artistry.
For $75, collectors can buy one of 200 signed and numbered editions bound in white cloth and protected by a slip case. Even though $11.95 for the paperback sounds like a bargain in comparison, it's not.