The White Cat and the Monk

illus. by Sydney Smith. 28p. Groundwood. Mar. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554987801.
RedReviewStarGr 1–5—On a dark night, a white cat enters an abbey, his lithe form slinking down the stone hallways until he spies a warm yellow light spilling out from under a doorway. Here, after several pages of wordless graphic novel-like panels, readers meet the titular monk, who welcomes the feline into his chambers as he works quietly and carefully, reading his illuminated manuscripts by candlelight. In spare prose gracefully adapted from the anonymous Irish poem, "Pangur Bán," the monk connects his work with that of his pet, Pangur: "The silent hunter, he sits and stares at the wall. He studies the hole that leads to the mouse's home. My own eyes, older and less bright than his, study my manuscript, hunting for meaning." Smith, illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers (Groundwood, 2015), here again showcases his exquisite command of light and shadow—readers can almost see the candlelight flickering across the monk's face and his spartan surroundings. Black ink and earth tone watercolors depict a cloistered and cozy interior; one full-bleed, full-page spread offers a close-up view of the monk's gorgeously illustrated manuscripts featuring elaborate calligraphy, rainbow-colored embellishments, and clever integrations of the monk, Pangur, and their individual pursuits. The monk admits that "each page is a challenge," offering young readers the ever-so-subtle message that learning and the search for truth can be difficult and require patience. So, too, does the cat's pursuit of the mouse, which ends with the mouse snared in the patient predator's needle claws. The joy Pangur feels when he at last captures his prey is compared to that of the monk, who finally finds the answer he was seeking just as the sun begins to rise. A final spread shows the contented cat watching the dawn of a new day, his human companion having finally found "light in the darkness."
VERDICT A stunningly illustrated meditative ode to the simple joys of human-animal companionship and the pursuit of knowledge.

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