Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

The White Cat & The Monk: A visual retelling of a classic Irish poem January 25, 2016

white cat_1The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán”, by Jo Ellen Bogart/Illustrated by Sydney Smith (March 2016, Groundwood Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781554987801

Recommended for ages 3+

A solitary monk meditates on the life he shares with a white cat he calls Pangur in this picture book retelling of the classic Irish poem, Pangur Bán. While pursues knowledge, Pangur has his own pursuits; he stalks a mouse. They live side by side, content with each other and what they each have.

Pangur Bán is a ninth-century Irish poem written by a Benedictine monk whose name is lost to history. An author’s note at the end of the story provides background on the poem and what we know about the writer and cat who inspired it. Jo Ellen Bogart’s retelling is my first introduction to the poem, and it’s amazing in the serene feeling it inspires. Paired with Sydney Smith’s gentle illustrations – the cat playfully sticks his paw under the monk’s door to gain entry, we see the monk lovingly hold Pangur in his lap, and there is a beautiful end picture of the cat at the window, ending with the poem’s line, “…and I find light in the darkness”, leading us to the conclusion that Pangur is the light, both literally (with his brilliant white fur) and figuratively, in his life. There’s a gorgeous illuminated manuscript spread that offers a great opportunity to talk to older readers about the artwork that monks created. It’s alternately a poem and a history lesson that works beautifully for young readers as easily as it does for higher grades.

This is a great book for any group of readers. Animal lovers and poetry lovers will have their own reasons for adoring the book, sure, but this is a great storytime read to get the little ones in a calming frame of mind after the singing and dancing are done. It’s a great book to introduce to kids who may not think they like poetry. It’s a great book to have on display for National Poetry Month. The White Cat and the Monk has already received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Jo Ellen Bogart is an award-winning children’s author. She has been nominated for and won many different awards, including the Ruth Schwartz Award, the Mr. Christie’s Book Award, the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award. Her picture book, Gifts, was selected for the TD Grade One Book Giveaway program, as well as the IBBY Honor List.

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