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Sunday, June 12, 2016

The White Cat and the Monk, written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Sidney Smith. Groundwood. 2016. $18.95 ages 4 and up

'I treasure the wealth to be
found in my books.

Pangur has his own pursuit,
his game of chase and catch.
The silent hunter, he sits and
stares at the wall.

He studies the hole
that leads to the
mouse' s home."  

There is an old Irish poem called Pangur Ban. This lovely, evocative book retells its story in elegant text that reminds readers it is possible to be content with little. The monk and the cat seem perfect companions, each engaged in their own separate pursuits and happy with their lot in life. The monk watches the cat closely,  comparing the delights each finds in the day, while not needing the same things in any way. The monk is intent on his books, the cat intent on its prey. There is no competition. 

The message is perhaps an observation on life as many live it today ... always impatient for more. After watching the cat go about its daily work with purpose and satisfaction, the monk feels great satisfaction in the life they share.

Sydney Smith's glorious artwork begins the telling with wordless opening spreads that show the cat as it arrives at the monastery and makes its way to the monk's door. He then  moves the story through the musings of the monk as he quietly contemplates the way the two go about their work:

“By candle’s light, late into the night, we work, each at a special trade.” 

As the monk works diligently with aging eyes, Mr. Smith creates a memorable image of an old man bent over the work at hand. In each succeeding spread, we are witness to the success that each experiences and the pleasure found in small, necessary pursuits. Mr. Smith's watercolor and ink illustrations perfectly match the quiet content of two lives shared

This is one of those lovely picture books that is perfect in its execution, blending words and illustrations with excellence and great wonder. Would that we all pursue such joy and enjoy the contentment of a day well lived. It needs a place on your book shelf. 


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