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Review of The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán”

bogart_white cat and the monkThe White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán”
by Jo Ellen Bogart; 
illus. by Sydney Smith
Preschool, Primary    Groundwood    32 pp.
3/16    978-1-55498-780-1    $18.95
e-book ed.  978-1-55498-781-8    $16.95

Perhaps best known to us now through Barber and Auden’s song “The Monk and His Cat” (there is also a YA novel by Mary Stolz), “Pangur Bán” is a ninth-century Old Irish poem about the simple contentment a monk and a cat find in work and life together. This picture book edition opens wordlessly, with sequential panels showing the cat entering and prowling through the corridors of a dark monastery until his prowl — and the color palette — is suddenly brightened by the glow of light from under a door: the monk’s room. Then the text, in a homely handwritten font, begins: “I, monk and scholar, share my room with my white cat, Pangur.” As the monk and cat each goes about his tasks (respectively, study and mousing), night becomes day and the candlelight is replaced by dawn. The adaptation (“inspired by a number of translations written over many years”) is as unostentatious as the watercolor and ink illustrations, which meld a medieval spirit with a modern sense of cartooning, a juxtaposition that is fresh and seems entirely right.

From the May/June 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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