The Boy Who Drew Cats

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Drawing on Lafcadio Hearn's collections of traditional Japanese tales, Hodges (St. George and the Dragon) succinctly recounts a legend of the early boyhood of 15th-century artist Sesshu Toyo. The boy, in training to be a priest, spends every spare moment covering the walls and screens of the temple with drawings of cats. His exasperated teacher turns him out with nothing more than the obscure advice, "Avoid large places at night: keep to small." Seeking refuge the following evening in an empty temple, the boy covers all the walls and screens there, too, with paintings of cats. He remembers his teacher's advice and conceals himself in a cabinet for the night. He wakes to the sound of a fearsome battle and, when the boy emerges in the morning, he finds a huge rat-goblin dead on the floor and the mouths of all his painted cats "red and wet with blood." His own creations have saved him. Sogabe's (The Hungriest Boy in the World) crisp paper cut-outs, often lined in black, stand out starkly against misty, dramatic landscapes; the winsome cats seem curiously ill-suited to their grisly chore. Haunting images and an unusual vision of the creative power of childhood make this a memorable tribute to a fine artist. Ages 5-8. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This pleasant picture book recounts the legend of Sesshu Toyo, whose lifelike ink drawings adorned a Japanese monastery in the fifteenth century. In this version of the tale, the artist is the youngest child of a poor farmer. Though he is very clever, the boy is slight of build and not cut out for hard work. His father sends him to train for the priesthood. The only problem is that the boy can't seem to stop drawing cats. He draws them on walls, in books, on pillars, and on screens. The priest sends the boy away with the admonition to avoid large places at night. The boy travels on, only to find himself in a scary, abandoned temple, which is rumored to be haunted by goblins. It doesn't take long for the boy to decorate the temple with his beautiful cats. This time the boy's passion for drawing winds up saving his life. This simple yet engaging story is enhanced by beautifully realized color illustrations. 2002, Holiday House,
— Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-In old Japan, a clever, frail peasant boy training for the priesthood cannot resist drawing cats on every available surface. When his exasperated teacher sends him away, he takes shelter in an abandoned temple late at night, not knowing that a murderous goblin haunts the place. After drawing cats all over the dusty walls, the boy crawls inside a small cabinet to sleep. Terrible noises disturb him during the night. When morning comes, he finds an enormous rat lying dead on the floor, and fresh blood on the mouths of the cats he painted. This story was first told in English more than 100 years ago by Lafcadio Hearn. Drawing on traditional stories about a picture that comes to life, Hearn fleshed out a short fable about Sesshu Toyo, a famous Zen painter from the 15th century. Hodges has lightly but judiciously pruned Hearn's text, retaining his rhythm and easy grace. Sogabe's cut-paper, watercolor, and airbrush illustrations resonate with the spirit of Japanese woodcuts, and are distinguished by striking composition and harmonious, muted colors. Her picture of the dead goblin is dramatic yet restrained, showing only the boy's appalled face and the rat's large tail. Hodges's direct, clear adaptation stays closer to its source than David Johnson's highly embellished retelling of the same title (Rabbit Ears, 1991, o.p.). She also provides a model source note. This shivery page-turner celebrating the power of art belongs in most libraries.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An artist is born in Hodges's shortened retelling of a classic tale from Japan. Unable to stop drawing cats on every available surface, young acolyte Sesshu Toyo is expelled from one temple. He takes shelter for the night in another that is, unknown to him, haunted by a goblin. After sweeping away the dust and, of course, drawing cats on the walls, he retires to a small cabinet-to be awakened by sounds of a ferocious battle, and greeted the following morning by the sight of a huge dead rat goblin surrounded by drawings of bloody-mouthed cats. Sogabe (Hungriest Boy in the World, 2001, etc.) uses cut paper over painted backgrounds to create strongly defined forms with subtly airbrushed shadows, and puts plump, deceptively peaceful-looking felines into nearly every scene. Hodges concludes by noting that Sesshu Toyo went on to become a famous artist-" ‘ . . . but once he was just a boy who drew cats, just a child like you.' " Sogabe shows only the goblin's tail, and does not depict the battle at all; readers more inured to terror may prefer Arthur Levine's eerie, atmospheric version of the story (1994), illustrated by Frederic Clement. (source note) (Picture book/folktale. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780823415946
  • Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.20 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

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