Cat on a journey

Book review: Cooper and the Big Apple by Camille and Riley Cohn. Published by Greenleaf Book Group, Austin, Texas.
ISBN-13 978162634220-0, $15.95

Cooper the cat sometimes leads with his stomach but also thinks things through. He stars as the title character in the 36-page picture book “Cooper and the Big Apple” and adds to the rich body of feline lore with his powers of observation on a visit to New York City.

Telling the story is author Camille Cohn, art teacher at Fredericksburg (Texas) Elementary School, and her artist daughter, Riley Cohn, 16.

The story of the cat’s journey is based on two events–the Cohns’ airport meeting with a real cat named Cooper on his way to New York City, and the Cohn family’s own New York vacation some years earlier.

Following their meeting with the traveling cat, their imagination sparked, Camille and Riley Cohn went to work writing and drawing his adventures.

The result is an appealing tale featuring a charcoal-colored, sunshade-wearing feline. He prefers his life in a small Texas town to a complicated trip, but he goes along because that’s what his pal Jennifer wants to do. Eating snacks on the plane, the cat wonders about the fruit reference to New York: “What apple? I thought we were going to New York City.”

His uncertainty and literal interpretations are repeated themes. Often he is hopeful he will get something to eat, only to learn that he has misunderstood a word or phrase. For example, at Tiffany’s, where he has heard that people have breakfast, he discovers “There’s not even any toast.”

Like Riley Cohn, Cooper is on the autism spectrum. This means he gives words and phrases a literal definition. To Cooper, a big apple is round and red and something to eat. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a morning meal instead of the name of a well-known movie based on a famous store.

Cooper’s misunderstandings and his desire for food extend to the subway (sandwiches!) and the stock market, and when headed for the borough of Queens, he wonders if he’s dressed well enough to visit royalty. Riley illustrates each scene to show what’s in Cooper’s head, creating the drawings herself based on her mother’s instruction. Sydney, Riley’s younger sister, is the fashion director, suggesting items of clothing that characters wear.

During book signings, Riley puts her name in the same place: First page, right side, within a dashed loop that shows Cooper’s flight path to New York. She repeated the signature often during a book signing at a Fredericksburg clothing store, the Haberdashery Boutique.

Owner Jill Elliott said she hosted the signing because of her friendship with the Cohns and because she knew people would love the book. “There is big support in this town. People were buying six books at a time.”

“Cooper and the Big Apple” is the second book to feature Riley Cohn’s drawings. The first one was “Martin in the Narthex,” written by the Rev. Dick Elwood. The star of that story is a real Australian Shepherd at St. Barnabas Church. The book is among Riley’s favorites, along with the Cam Jansen Mysteries and the Magic Tree House series.

The Cohns are working on another book in which a hairless Chihuahua and a standard French poodle live above a store on Fredericksburg’s Main Street. The ending will not be divulged here, but the book is about friendship.

Riley Cohn signing book as mom Camille watches.
Riley Cohn signing book as mom Camille watches.
A composite of Riley Cohn's drawings for 'Cooper and the Big Apple'
A composite of Riley Cohn’s drawings for ‘Cooper and the Big Apple’