CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 34 . . . . May 6, 2011
My Cat Isis is Catherine Austen's first picture book. Her novel for young adults, Walking Backwards, was described by a Globe and Mail reviewer as "a wise, rich and wonderfully compelling novel." It is currently on the list this year for the Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award. A visit to Austen's website makes her love of cats (and books featuring feline characters) abundantly clear. What is not so clear to the reader of My Cat Isis is the author's intended audience in creating the book which is made up of a series of 12 comparisons between the well-known and well-beloved Egyptian goddess Isis and a well-beloved feline namesake owned by the young narrator.
Each double page illustration features a fact about Isis, the goddess, while, on the opposing page, there is a loosely related fact about Isis, the pet cat. While the facts about the Egyptian goddess appearing on the right hand page appear to be the voice of an adult educator, the text on the opposing page represents the voice of the young owner. Such an arrangement of alternating voices tends to impede the flow of the narrative when My Cat Isis is read aloud. A few comparisons will illustrate the problem:
Equally problematic for readers is that the examples of what the publishers call "lighthearted comparisons between the cat and its goddess namesake" seem to miss the mark more often than not.
Each comparison is certainly far-fetched and original (as children's comparisons so often are), but since the complicated and violent story of Isis and Osiris would neither be familiar (nor likely to be told on the spot to a three to seven-year old listener) the theme that could provide an underpinning or connective fibre for the book is weak, if present at all. Perhaps had Austen found occasion to focus on the importance of cats to the ancient Egyptians, such a connecting link might have enhanced her picture narrative. While it may be the case that more sophisticated readers will find occasions to chuckle at the childish similarities and differences discovered by the human protagonist, it is unlikely that very young listeners will be able to understand or share in those chuckles.
It is unfortunate that, although Virginie Egger's illustrations are, as the publisher claims, a "dazzling work of paper-and-photo collage painting and pen-and-ink illustration", the text does not measure up to the dazzling artwork At nineteen dollars, budget conscious elementary school librarians could be excused for giving My Cat Isis a miss.
Recommended with reservations.
Valerie Nielsen, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.