One-Minute Book Reviews

February 17, 2007

A Children’s Picture Book of the Year From Australia

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Children's Books,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:25 pm

A beautifully written and illustrated allegory from Down Under about intercultural relationships

Cat and Fish. Illustrated by Neil Curtis. Written by Joan Grant. Simply Read Books, 32 pp., $16.95. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Does your library have a long waiting list for Flotsam, the winner of this year’s Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association? Consider this terrific alternative that won the 2004 Picture Book of the Year Award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

A male cat and female fish from “different worlds” learn to share their lives in this exceptional allegory about intercultural relationships and appreciating others’ differences, whether they involve race, religion, or ethnicity. Cat and Fish towers over most books for preschoolers that deal with similar themes, and not just because illustrator Neil Curtis uses only beautiful black-and-white illustrators that serve as a visual metaphor for Joan Grant’s engaging story.

American children’s books about tolerance tend to suffer from a surfeit of good intentions — their authors’ motives are spotless, but their text and pictures are too dreary and didactic to win children’s hearts. Curtis and Grant know that a picture book needs, above all, to tell a great story. And that’s what they do in this tale of a cat who shows a fish “how to climb/ and how to live on land on cold nights” and a fish who introduces a cat to her friends without apologies. Every spread has words simple enough for 3-year-olds but pictures that, like those of M.C. Escher, are rich enough never to exhaust their imaginative potential. Australia has a tradition of excellence in children’s literature that has shown up here in books like Julie Vivas’s The Nativity, and Curtis and Grant strengthen it with Cat and Fish.

Recommended … without reservations.

Best line/picture: The bold endpapers draw you into the tale before you have read a word of it and are especially welcome because American publishers so often omit or slight these.

Worst line/picture: None. But you wish the dust jacket had included a line about the illustrator’s technique. The remarkable black-and-white images resemble woodcuts but may be pen-and-ink drawings, and I couldn’t find a clarification of this on children’s literature sites.

Published: 2005

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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