In this Japanese variation on the familiar good servant/wicked master theme, kindhearted Sho leaves the house of her cruel mistress (a woman with a face ``as sour as spoiled milk'') to search for her beloved missing cat, Secret. After a series of predictable hardships she arrives at the mysterious Cat Mountain, where she is reunited with Secret, now transformed into a cat-faced girl. When Sho returns with a magic bag filled with gold, her jealous mistress decides to make her own journey to Cat Mountain, only to be eaten by the cats after scorning their hospitality. The text, adapted from Richard's original French by Arthur A. Levine, moves along smoothly but offers few surprises. More intriguing are Buguet's illustrations, an unexpected combination of traditional Japanese painting and contemporary collages of textured papers. Delicately detailed cutouts of people and cats are set against backdrops of bold color, while a slightly oversize vertical format heightens the impact. Buguet's arresting images reflect the varying moods of the story and take it beyond the realm of a simple retelling. Ages 5-9. (Apr.)
- Marilyn Courtot
In this Japanese tale, a young servant girl is separated from Secret, her beloved cat, by her wicked mistress. She learns from a fortune-teller where Secret has gone and sets out for the dreaded and frightening Cat Mountain to search for her only friend. Once there, she finds Secret and great riches. Then the mistress hears and decides that she will go and claim the treasure for herself. Secret ensures that the evil mistress receives just what she deserves. Torn paper illustrations in this oversized book are beautiful enough to frame.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-6-Kind, young Sho is a servant in the house of a nasty, rich woman. When the woman chases Sho's beloved cat away, she goes in search of it. Her journey takes her to perilous Cat Mountain, from which no one ever returns. However, her pet saves her from the evil creatures who reside there, and sends her home with a gift that will buy her freedom. When Sho returns, her employer is so envious of her good fortune that she sets off to do the same-with disastrous results. Despite a few anachronisms (e.g. the woman's face is described as being ``sour as spoiled milk'' when milk was not an article of consumption in Japan), this chilling tale is skillfully retold. Illustrations show the influence of traditional Japanese print artists, especially Utamaro, Kiyonaga, and Harunobu. Textured paper backgrounds, watercolors, acrylics, and even crayons are employed to excellent effect to generate a spooky and threatening atmosphere. Cultural representation is accurate for the early Edo Period (17th century), and the villainess is truly ugly.-John Philbrook, San Francisco Public Library
Set in a Japanese village, this captivating folktale tells of a good-hearted servant girl named Sho, who serves a mistress so wicked that she hates both children and cats. Making a long and difficult journey to Cat Mountain to seek her cat, Secret, which her mistress had thrown out of the house, Sho's good heart and courage earn her a fortune in gold. When her mistress goes on the same quest to seek her fortune, the hateful woman's arrogance and ill temper lead to her death. The impressive artwork features characters and settings painted in traditional Japanese style and knits together, collagelike, picture elements and borders created separately. The handmade and paint-mottled papers sometimes jut across the pages at angles, combining modern and traditional elements in eye-catching illustrations. Though no source notes appear, the CIP refers to the story as folklore. The text, which reads with dignity as well as drama, matches the elegance of the art. But this is also beautifully suited for its audience--anyone who likes both children and cats.