Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku

Teachers’ Guide for
Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku
by Lee Wardlaw
Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Ages 5 and up

“Wardlaw has a fine understanding of the feline mind,
and each poem packs a big impact…
a surprisingly powerful story in verse.”
  – Publisher’s Weekly

“Wardlaw’s terse, traditional verse captures catness from every angle, while Yelchin’s…illustrations telegraph cat-itude with every
stretch and sinuous slink. Perfect pussycat poetry
for anyone who has ever loved a shelter cat.”
                            – Kirkus, starred review

Both the tightly constructed lines and elegant, playful illustrations
unerringly imagine a cat’s world…
[Wardlaw] creates a lovable, believable character
in this wry, heartwarming title that’s sure to find wide acceptance
in the classroom and beyond.
                                    – Booklist, starred review

  About the Author

  Lee Wardlaw’s first spoken word was “kitty.” Since then, she’s
  owned more than two dozen cats (not all at the same time!) and
  published more than two dozen award-winning books for young
  readers, including 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents and 101 Ways to
  Bug Your Teacher. She lives in Santa Barbara, California with her
  husband, teenage son, and (of course) three cats.

  About the Illustrator

  Eugene Yelchin is a Russian-born artist. He illustrated Who Ate All
  the Cookie Dough? by Karen Beaumont and The Cobbler’s Holiday
  or Why Ants Don’t Wear Shoes by Musharraf Ali Farooqi. With his
  wife, Mary Kuryla, he co-wrote Heart of a Snowman and Ghost Files:
  The Haunting Truth, which he also illustrated. He lives with his
  family in Topanga, California.

  Author Interview

1.How did you get the idea for this book?

“When one of our two beloved cats passed away, my young
son and I went to a local animal shelter to pick out a new
kitten.  We interviewed several of them, and it was like some-thing out of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’:  This one is too shy, this one too skittery, that one bites, that one is napping
in his litter box (ew!)…but this one is just right.  So Won Ton’s story is based on the journey we took with our new family member, from the ‘choosing’ to the car ride home, to the ‘naming’, to the first subbed meal – and beyond.”

2.Haiku is deceptively simple. What advice do you have for writers of the form?

“Writing haiku is like cupping a moth between your hands. You are capturing a moment, stilling its wings to better see it, observe it, appreciate it. So haiku is all about noticing – with eyes and ears wide open – what is happening before you right here, right now.  That takes patience and practice – but it’s worth it!

“For teachers wanting to introduce haiku to their students, I highly recommend Patricia Donegan’s book Haiku (Tuttle
          Publishing). In her book, Donegan talks about the Seven Keys
to Writing Haiku:  Form, Image, Kigo, Here and Now, Feeling, Surprise and Compassion. I’ll discuss these keys in more detail later in this Guide.”

3.Who are some of your favorite poets? What have you learned from them?

“I enjoy Valerie Worth, Ellen Kelley, Thalia Chaltas, Kristine
O’Connell George, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Joan Bransfield
Graham, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, April Halprin Wayland,
Shel Silvertein, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer…the list is endless! 
As for what I’ve learned from them?  Observe! Notice! And play!”

4.What can your fans look forward to next?

101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies (ages 10-14)
is scheduled for publication September, 2011; I also have a rhyming picture book for toddlers and preschoolers due out
in the spring of 2012. It’s called Red, White and Boom! and
it’s about the many ways families across the U.S.A. celebrate
the 4th of July.


What is haiku? Do you think it is easy or hard to write? Why?

  Discussion Guide

What does the shelter have? What does it NOT have? What does our cat hero mean when he says, “or so I’ve been told.”
How are the cats alone but together in the shelter? Describe what feelings you think Won Ton has.
What’s special about visiting hours?
Explain why the cat thinks there is “no contest” with dogs.
Do you agree? Make a pros and cons list for each pet.
Do all the children during visiting hours treat the cats kindly? How do you know?
How hard is it to name a pet? How do you decide? What name does the boy choose? Do you think it’s a good name or not?
How does Won Ton feel about the new place? What details prove this? Have you ever been nervous or afraid to try something new?  Why?
What does it mean to “snub” something? What foods do you snub?
What habits does Won Ton have that you like or dislike?  Would you like him to live with you?  Why or why not?
Where is Won Ton’s favorite place to sleep? Where is yours?
What happens when the boy’s sister plays with Won Ton? Do cats usually like little children or not? Why?
What does your “nose know?” What are good snacks for cats? Which ones are disappointing? What’s your favorite snack?
Describe the types of things that the boy and Won Ton like to do together. How do cats get the attention of their owners? How do you get the attention of your parents?
What is the best part of owning a pet? What can be difficult?
In the end, what does Won Ton tell the boy that’s important?


All stories (even ones written in haiku!) have three parts to them: a beginning, a middle, and an end. As you re-read the story, fill out the following graphic organizer on the most important things to remember about Won Ton’s story.
In the beginning…
In the middle….
In the end…


  Try writing your own haiku or senryu poem. Tell the story of your
  own pet (or dream pet) in a series of at least five poems. Read the
  author’s note at the opening of the book for more information about
  this form of poetry.


  Solve these word problems:

1.If Won Ton, Pumpkin and Gypsy each eat a cup of food a day, and they spend two weeks at the shelter before they’re adopted, how many cups will they eat in total?

2.If  Gypsy spends an extra week at the shelter (she has a cold, poor baby), how many more cups of food will you need?

3.Imagine you received $75 for your birthday to pay for adopting a cat.  If the adoption fee is $35.00, and it costs $15.00 to have her spayed and $20.00 for her first shots, do you have enough to adopt?

4.If a cat sleeps 18 hours a day, how many hours are left to play?


  Inspired by the sharp angles and lines of Eugene Yelchin’s
  illustrations, create a portrait of your own pet (or dream pet) on
  the flat surface of a paper plate. Paint or color the ruffled edges to
  look like a wooden frame. Hang your favorite haiku/senryu beneath
  it for a hallway display.

  Community Service Project

  Host a bake sale, carwash or other fundraiser to benefit a local pet 
  shelter or Humane Society. Be sure to call the shelter and ask what

  type of donations they need. Care packs for newly adopted pets are
  often welcome.


  Both poetry and science rely on close observation. As you work on 
  creating a haiku or senryu, use the following chart to make direct
  observations of your pet or topic:

What you notice about your topic:
Details you can SEE (color, shape, size, movement)

Details you can HEAR (volume, repetition, tone)

Details you can SMELL (strong, pleasant, sharp, warm, etc.

Details you can TASTE (sweet, sour, tangy, bitter)

Details you can TOUCH (scratchy, silky fuzzy, soft)


  The Seven Keys to Writing Haiku
  From Haiku by Patricia Donegan

1.Form:  A haiku poem should have three lines with or
without a seventeen syllable count. (Five syllables in the
first line, seven in the second, five in the third.) A good rule
of thumb is to make your haiku one breath long.

2.Image:  Your poem should have a descriptive image. For
example, instead of ‘a cat’, write ‘a black cat in the grass.’

3.Kigo:  Kigo is a ‘season’ word. Haiku always refers to
nature in some way, hinting at the day’s season or weather.

4.Here and Now:  Write from a real observation – an experience or a memory of an experience – instead of from your imagination.  Remember: you are noticing – and writing about noticing – a present moment.

5.  Feeling:  Show, don’t tell.  Your haiku should not explain;
      use an image to show your feelings.

5.Surprise:  Haiku should have an ‘ah’! or an ‘a-ha!’ moment:
Something that wakes the reader up.

6.Compassion:  Haiku expresses open-heartedness toward
living things.

This guide was created by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a reading
specialist and children’s author. To learn more about Tracie and
her books, visit For hundreds of other guides Tracie has created, visit: