CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 3 . . . .September 28, 2007
That Stripy Cat.
Norene Smiley. Illustrated by Tara Anderson.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2007.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 3-6.
Review by Anna Swanson.
By closing time, all the animals had been adopted except one – the stripy little cat with no name of his own.
"My uncle has room for the stripy cat in his barn," said Judy. But the stripy cat tangled himself around Mrs. Cosy's legs and clung on tight. Judy went home in a huff.
The stripy little cat was left behind.
The stripy star of our story is an undeniably lovable and spunky cat in need of a home, a name and a companion. But while the other animals at the Hummingbird Animal Shelter are adopted by visitors as the day goes on, the stripy cat always manages to do just the wrong thing and get left behind. Only Mrs. Cosy seems to see the good in this wild, wilful and stubborn cat. As the story progresses, however, it begins to appear as if getting left behind may be part of the stripy cat's plan. Perhaps the stripy cat has already chosen a companion…
This story touches on the heartbreak of not being chosen, the human ability to see positive qualities where others see only misbehaviour and rebellion, and the joy of finding just the right companion. The repeating chorus of "[t]he stripy little cat was left behind," helps to give the book the structure and predictability that make for a good storytime read-aloud, and the various quirky names Mrs. Cosy calls the cat give the book a tender caring tone.
Even though there is a narrative arc about a cat who needs a home but keeps getting left behind, there seems to be little tension or variation in tone to create excitement or suspense. There is no dramatic use of the page turn and very little surprise in the conclusion of the story. Generally, the text is solid but often doesn't sing. The strongest use of language is in the affectionate and creative litany of names that Mrs. Cosy tries out before settling on a name that finally sticks – Velcro.
Tara Anderson's exuberant acrylics (with drawn elements) provide straightforward illustration for the narrative. The illustrations don't aim to provide any additional narrative elements or re-interpretations of the text, but there are charming and creative touches – like Mrs. Cosy's cat-themed pajamas.
It is not the illustrations themselves, but the relationship between the words and pictures that occasionally detracts from the success of the story. In one spread, the text is broken in such a way that the text below two individual illustrations doesn't match up with the pictures above. There is also an early illustration where a new female character is introduced, but she is only differentiated from Mrs. Cosy by a change in hair colour. The confusion is compounded when her actions in the illustration (smiling as she holds out a toy mouse for the cat) do not seem to match with the text: "The stripy cat would not come out from under the couch. 'Your name should be Cantankerous!' said Judy." It isn't hard to imagine that perhaps the person we see in the illustration is actually still Mrs. Cosy who "just smiled and called the cat Steadfast." These certainly aren't major flaws, but any possible confusion could easily have been avoided by changing small details such as the order in which the minor character were introduced.
Overall, the stripy cat is portrayed with great affection and energy both in the text and illustration. This book will certainly work as a storytime read-aloud for the three to five crowd, especially for those obsessed with animals, but the appeal may be more focused on the loveable character of the stripy cat rather than the strength of the storytelling. There are strong threads of hope and acceptance that run through this book which make it a good candidate for comforting any child who often breaks the rules but still wants to know s/he is are lovable and loved.
Anna Swanson, who is completing her Master of Library and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, currently works as a student librarian for the Richmond Public Library.
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