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Bardell, Graham
Don Mills (Ont.), Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1992. 32pp, cloth, $14.95, ISBN 0-02-954084-4. CIP

Grades2 to 4/Ages7 to 9

Reviewed by Carol Carver

Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October

Just in time for celebrating the quincentennial of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to America comes this version of the trip as seen by his ship's cat. The rather elaborate plot begins when Gato (Spanish for "cat") becomes separated from his magician master, Magico, in a hostile crowd. A friendly seagull, Marino, leads him to the docks, where Columbus mistakes the cat for his own. Gato and Marino set sail on the Santa Maria and assist the explorer in finding land. On San Salvador they are joined by Papagaya ("parrot" in Spanish) and Perro ("dog"), who becomes fast friends with the ship's boy, Juan.

One night, Juan carelessly allows the boat to crash on the rocks but regains favour when he helps Columbus find gold. Juan and Perro stay behind while the others depart for Spain on the Nina and encounter a hurricane. Gato rescues Columbus' sack of gold but is nearly swept overboard until Papagaya cries for help. The cat and parrot become honoured guests at court, where they meet up with Magico. But Gato misses Perro and Marino, and at the conclusion of the story he slips away to join Columbus on his next voyage.

The cover design is striking but the other illustrations, with the exception of the hurricane scene, are uninspired. The endpaper maps are useful, although it would be valuable if San Salvador and La Navidad were also labelled. Bardell, who has previously illustrated two children's books, has imparted an authentic feel for the life and beliefs of the times. However, there are many absurdities in the plot: two examples are Magico's turning the boy's hair green and the seagull flying east and west rather than north and south. The book contains too much writing to appeal to Primary readers, and Intermediate students, who study explorers in grade 6 Social Studies, will lose interest in the highly anthropomorphized animals and mediocre illustrations.

Columbus's Cat starts with a novel premise but is marred by a complicated plot replete with characters. It is an optional purchase only for audiences wishing a different view of Columbus' first voyage.

Carol Carver is an elementary teacher at Dieppe School in Winnipeg, Manitoba

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