Based on a Buddhist folktale, For the Love of a Cat by Rosalind Wilson (1942–1992) and illustrated by Wen Hsu (Katha, 2010) is a thought-provoking story about acceptance and having the courage to do something you know deep down is right, even if it goes against the status quo. Don’t get me wrong, though – there’s nothing heavy-handed about the story or its retelling here: in fact, it would provide a very gentle, reassuring end to the day, as a bedtime readaloud.
An impoverished artist who lives with his beloved cat Tara arrives at his last meal, a small fish. Realising that it is not enough for both of them, he gives it to Tara then lies down to await death. Instead, some Buddhist monks come knocking at the door and give him the best comission he’s ever had: “a beautiful painting of the Holy One with all the creatures of nature around him.” There’s just one condition – “all the creatures of nature” does not include cats, since they had heard that the Buddha did not like them. The painter begins his work in the temple, but meanwhile Tara becomes very ill and he finds himself in a terrible quandary – to follow orders or his heart…
I was so happy to find this book in the pile I brought back recently from the office in San Francisco – I’ve been a big fan of illustrator Wen Hsu’s since we featured her in our Gallery and I interviewed her a couple of years ago. Her illustrations here are just as gorgeous as you’d expect, with her signature combination of bright colors and paper cut-outs. There’s a wonderful array of faces to take in, as well as plenty of animals for small listeners to find, and Tara the cat is just beautiful. As well as the book cover above, you can get an idea of the artwork from Wen’s photo of all the originals laid out here, on Wen’s blog.
And if the story sounds familiar, it is probably because you know The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth, which won the Newbery Medal in 1930. In that retelling of the story for older readers, the setting is Japan. Depending on the ages of your children, why not read them both; or read For the Love of a Cat now, with its vibrant Indian setting, and make a note to introduce them to Coatsworth’s beautifully written tale in a few years’ time?