Archive | March 2016

A Traveling Cat, by George Ella Lyon

A Traveling Cat by George Ella Lyon

George Ella Lyon was approaching 50 when she set down her childhood memories of a cat she’d found in a small mining town in Kentucky. The cat’s name is Boulevard. You see her silhouette on a trestle bridge over a grassy, tree-lined river – with blue mountains in the background. “I found her at the drive-in movie,” writes George Ella Lyon, “on the playground in front of the screen.” The cat on the playground sits attentively, bravely studying a little girl with its ears perked up – but in the background are classic cars from the 1950s. It’s not only a cat’s perspective – it’s a cat’s perspective from the distant past.

Each page in A Traveling Cat shows beautiful, moody illustrations that show the world in colored chalk – the shades of color in the sky, the bright green of a field – and they make the familiar seem special and magic. When autumn comes, the trees turn orange and yellow. And ironically, one of the most beautiful drawings is on the page with the copyright notice. It’s a two-page spread showing dawn’s light over dark and purple hills. The traveling cat’s road is streaks of yellow, orange, purple, and blue. It’s as though the whole world was being seen through the eyes of a cat.

A little girl named Ruth discovers the cat at a drive-in. Relaxing on the wide upholstery of the car is the girl’s father, who seems friendly – and the whole family seems to enjoy the cat. The drawings capture everyone’s personality. The father lifts the cat proudly, Ruth cradles the cat affectionately, and the text also seems to add to the personalities as well. (“‘Ruth’s found a hitcher!’ he said, picking Bouvie up. ‘Now whose little cat could you be?'”) She watches squirrels, dances in the snow, and catches a ride on the family’s beagle, Roscoe. “Bouvie DID swing from the curtains,” Johnson remembers, “but even Mom said she was graceful.”)

But the text reads like poetry. (“Bouvie had a night-colored coat splattered with gold, like stars.”) And it captures the mystery of life with a cat. The cat disappears for a week, then surprises the family with kittens. On a stormy night she walks through the door, and drops the tiny kitten at their feet. Then does it four my times, depositing five kittens.

Two pages later they’re all given away. And when a flood swamps the town, all the neighborhood’s pets disappear. The animals fled to high ground in the hills – but they never came back. There’s an empty drive-in theatre, with two sad people in the foreground.”All summer I’ve looked for my cat, especially at the drive-in.”

The cat’s gone for good. The book imagines her wandering up a shadowy road with the sunlight through the leaves. But the book finds a positive philosophical note to end on. “Dad says Boulevard stayed a long time for such a traveling cat.

“Maybe, but not long enough.”

Night Ride, by Bernie and Mati Karlin

Night Ride, by Bernie and Mati Karlin

“Night Ride” is a children’s book that you experience instead of just reading. Every drawing is a dark scene from the night of mother’s car trip with her son. And every sentence is a part of their conversation. The book opens as they wave good-bye to the boy’s sister and father – seen in silhouette on the steps of their house. “Good-bye, Dad. Good-bye, Susie.” And the adventure has begun…

“Is your seat belt fastened?” the mother asks with a smile. But she’ll never be shown again, since the book switches to views of what’s outside their car.  “Careful, Billy. Don’t drop the money,” his mother says as their call pulls into a toll booth. The toll-taker is shown smiling back – and his booth is decorated with dimly-lit signs. Turn the page, and there’s a spectacular view of the city lights at night.  

“Wow!” says Billy.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” says his mother…

And it is pretty – a two-page spread showing the black outlines of buildings, sprinkled with lights, under the moon and the stars, behind the shadowy towers of a bridge. The pictures provide all of the details about what they see – including an airplane coming in for a landing, an overturned delivery truck, and the lights of a distant amusement park. They’re simple but realistic pictures documenting the random speckles of light in those quick glimpses of the world at nighttime – and there’s a gentle magnificence to it all. The final page shows a sunrise over a village, but the rest of the book captures the magic and mystery of night.

The entire plot of the book is delivered wordlessly – only implied in those spaces around the conversation. Because of its simplicity, Simon and Schuster labeled it as one of their books “for young readers,” but it’s still a nice example of the everyday love in a family. It was written by the husband-and-wife team of Bernie and Mati Karlin (and illustrated by Bernie Karlin). And on the first page, the couple dedicated the book to their parents, their children, and their grandchildren.

It’s an original book, and its plot would probably be described as “naturalistic”. But once readers discover the book’s pattern, it’s a lot of fun – and it still leaves lots of room for imagination. And despite all the mystery, the book still ends on a positive note.

“Are you asleep, Billy?

“It’s going to be a beautiful day.”