Sunday, August 21, 2011

Newbery X - 1931

Yes, I'm still doing this for some reason!

The tenth Newbery winner was The Cat Who Went To Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth. This slim tale is set "far away in Japan" (exotic locales, as we have seen in this series, being to the Newbery as playing the wise moron is to the Oscar).

A poor artist's housekeeper brings in a small spotted cat, who is named Good Fortune. Shortly afterwards, the artist is commissioned by a temple to paint Buddha’s death scene. The artist meditates on the various sacrifices that various animals --- the snail, the horse, the deer, the ox, the monkey, the dog --- all made for the dying Buddha, or made when they were the Buddha in a different lifetime, and then he paints them coming to pay respects. Then, even though the cat, an independent, ill-favored animal, did not receive the Buddha’s blessing on his death, the artist puts the cat in the picture as well. This is not looked upon favorably by the local priest.

It’s a sweet tale, full of gently subtle teachings on restraint, sacrifice, and love for all beings. Many of the animals sacrifice themselves for the benefit of Buddha or their masters; the deer, for example, convinces a king to become vegetarian by offering himself for sacrifice at a feast.

Recommended for children: I would guess that most American kids these days would find this a charming story, perhaps a bit over their heads but planting seeds of great ideas for the future. It’s not as lightweight as its brevity implies, and has a certain timeless, fairy tale quality to it.

Recommended for adults: Yes, for the same reasons.

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