________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006


The Cat and the Wizard.

Dennis Lee. Illustrated by Gillian Johnson.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 2001.
32 pp., cloth, $18.95.           
ISBN 1-55263-384-5.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Alison Mews.

**** /4


But nobody nowadays

Welcomes a wizard:

They'll take in a spaniel,

Make room for a lizard -
But show them a conjurer

Still on the ball,

And nobody wants him

Or needs him at all.


Canada's foremost poet for children, Dennis Lee, presents his rollicking and poignant poem, “The Cat and the Wizard,” in its own picture book. Now accompanied by whimsical illustrations in watercolour and ink by Gillian Johnson, the tale of two misfits finding friendship will be enjoyed by a whole new audience from those who read the original in Lee's 1974 collection, Nicholas Knock and Other People.

     The narrative poem begins with a tattered, homeless wizard morosely searching for an appreciative audience. Meanwhile, in Casa Loma, a "highly hospitable cat" makes preparations for chance visitors that never materialize. When the two meet in a laundromat, their casual chat turns into an incredible evening of companionship and conjuring and results in their establishing a permanent domestic arrangement. While the ending is not unexpected, the final line which reveals that the voice relating the tale is, in fact, the wizard, himself, will surprise and delight readers.

internal art

     Lee has changed the gender of the feline to female which allows Johnson to portray the classy cat "with a jet-black coat and a spiffy hat" in an elegantly plumed headdress and pearls. This contrasts sharply with her portrayal of a disreputable-looking magician who is distinctly unwizard-like. There's no long flowing beard, pointy hat and full-length gown covered in a moon-and-star motif for this wizard. Instead, he resembles a hobo with a day's growth and a backpack. Johnson has provided humorous touches throughout, and her sense of playfulness is particularly evident when she details the antics of the conjured characters. These will captivate young children pouring over the illustrations, but because the poetry is so filled with imagery and the rhyme so strong, this story will work equally as well as a read-aloud for a large group or for a single child.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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