Over a thousand years ago, an Irish monk was traveling in the area we now call Germany. It seems he must have been missing his white cat, who was back home in Ireland. So he wrote a brief poem about himself and his cat, Pangur Bán. Jo Ellen Bogart has recreated Pangur Bán (the poem, not the cat) in a delightful picture book, The White Cat and the Monk.
Go ahead and read the poem. Then come back. It’s a short poem, and you should know it.
The original Pangur Bán is a meditation of sorts, although I think you’ll agree that the word “meditation” sounds rather too serious for this merry little poem. And yet, it is a meditation, expressing the poet’s thoughts about life and work and companionship.
When an author retells the story from a poem, they have to decide whether to keep the poetry or to go to prose. Jo Ellen Bogart chose prose, which allowed her to emphasize the meditative aspects of the poem over the merry. The result is a peaceful, contemplative story that is true to the original, but is at the same time uniquely Bogart’s own.
Sydney Smith’s water color and ink illustrations are perfect for Bogart’s take on the story. Because the story takes place at night, Smith chose to use soft, muted colors. But rather than the cool blues and grays you might expect, the colors in The White Cat and the Monk are warmer.
Interestingly, the book is styled like a graphic novel. The first five pages of the book have no words. They show a white cat making his way, frame by frame, to the monk’s cell. These wordless pages help slow the pace of the book, creating the contemplative atmosphere.
Other wordless pages later in the book reveal the manuscripts that the monk is studying. These pages are beautiful, bright, full of color. And if you look closely, you’ll see images of a white cat and a monk in the margins of the pages.
The text of The White Cat and the Monk is hand-lettered. The script is most certainly not Irish Uncial, but somehow, it evokes it.
The White Cat and the Monk is a story of peace and contentment. Based on an ancient and beloved poem, it is likely to be a beloved book, perfect for bedtime, or laptime, or any other time.
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