Pete the cat and his four groovy buttons

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by E. Litwin

Litwin, Eric. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.  Illus. James Dean. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.

Pete, the laid back, imperturbable puss is back and this time author and children’s performer Eric Litwin incorporates math into the story. Pete puts on his favourite shirt and begins to sing about his buttons. There is lots of repetition to help kids learn about numbers and subtraction. First Pete thinks about the total number of buttons and the numeral is displayed. Then the word “four” appears twice in the refrain: “My buttons my buttons, my four groovy buttons”. One by one the buttons pop-off and each time the resulting equation is displayed: “How many buttons are left? 4-1=3”.  This sequence repeats until he is down to his belly button! As with the other Pete books, there is also a very important underlying message: don’t sweat the small stuff.  Each time he loses another button, the author asks: “Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! Buttons come and buttons go”. This is reinforced in the conclusion: “I guess it simply goes to show that stuff will come and stuff will go.  But do we cry? Goodness, No! We keep on singing”.

Artist James Dean first painted an image of Pete in 1999 and the little bluish-black cat with the big yellow eyes is still going strong.  His images are composed of bright, high-contrast colours. The visible brush strokes and thick black outlines create lots of interesting textures and highlights.  Of particular note are the buttons that leave long spirals of black trailing behind them and look as if they are popping right off the page.

Again, as with previous Pete books, ( I Love my White Shoes and Rockin’ My School Shoes),  there is a free downloadable song available from the Harper Collins Web site ( The book is certainly engaging enough to be enjoyed on its own. However, there is also a substantial amount of bonus material on the web site that can be incorporated into school lessons or enjoyed at home: the song, links to a YouTube video that pairs animated images from the book with the song, printable activities and a link to a “School Jam” ipad/iphone app featuring Pete. A clever fusion of music and math sprinkled with a life lesson in resilience, this book would make a groovy addition to school and home libraries for preschool to early elementary school-aged children.

Highly Recommended: 4 out 4 stars
Reviewer: Kim Frail

Kim is a Public Services Librarian at the H.T. Coutts Education Library at the University of Alberta. Children’s literature is a big part of her world at work and at home. She also enjoys gardening, renovating and keeping up with her two-year old.