The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán”

Jo Ellen Bogart, illus. by Sydney Smith. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-55498-780-1
In Bogart (Big and Small, Room for All) and Smith’s (Sidewalk Flowers) interpretation of a medieval Irish poem, a solitary, scholarly monk observes the cat living in his cell. The monk records the similarities between the cat’s pursuits and his own, creating a quietly powerful story about work, companionship, and the things that sustain—whether knowledge, faith, or a tasty mouse. A combination of panel sequences and full-page scenes, Smith’s ink-and-watercolor illustrations are dominated by moody browns and grays, with occasional bursts of color in the monk’s illuminated manuscripts; the cat’s playful curiosity and mutual tenderness with the monk add notes of light and humor. Bogart doesn’t emulate the rhyming couplets of the source material, instead writing in subtle, straightforward sentences: “We are each content, with all we need to entertain us.” Despite the reflective tone, text and art move readers swiftly through the story, which builds to a seeming epiphany for the monk. It’s a sophisticated and subtle story about the pursuit of joy—one that will easily resonate with readers young and old. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/2016
Release date: 03/30/2016
Genre: Children's
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