________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 21 . . . . June 22, 2001

cover The Chicken Cat.

Stephanie Simpson McLellan. Illustrated by Sean Cassidy.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2000.
32 pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 1-55041-531-X.

Subject Heading:
Kitchens-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool - grade 3 / Ages 3 - 8.

Review by Alison Mews.

**** /4


Even though the weather got warmer, Merlin found himself cold all the time. He was still so thin that Guinevere could carry him around the barnyard tucked under her wing. But most of the time, she arranged her warm, flightless feathers around him almost as if she hoped to hatch him out of his sick little body. Merlin would snuggle in gratefully, and listen to her cluck on about her dreams of flying - her flights of fancy.
image This is the tale of an unusual adoption. Merlin, so named because he appeared as if by magic, is a scrawny little kitten abandoned in the barn. A hen, Guinevere, literally takes him under her wing, but, despite her loving care, he doesn't thrive on dry grain. When a small girl visits the barn with her mom, Guinevere recognizes the chance for Merlin and selflessly deposits him at the girl's feet. Over the summer, Merlin does indeed grow healthy and strong at the little girl's house, but he misses his hen mother terribly. As he watches the birds from an upstairs window, he determines to return to her, and, one hot day when the window is open, he springs out, finds an air current and "flies" home to Guinevere. Overjoyed to see him, she willingly follows him to the top of the hen house where he repays her kindness to him by helping her achieve her lifelong dream of flying. They happily glide around the countryside, finally resting in a tree outside Merlin's new home under the surprised gaze of the little girl.

      Newcomer Stephanie McLellan has included beautiful poetic imagery filled with "fowl" language, eg. Merlin's "feather-like fur", and his "fragile, birdlike frame." She uses a storytelling style that sometimes speaks directly to the readers as if letting them in on a secret. Sean Cassidy has expanded on her heart-warming story in his watercolour, gouache and coloured pencil illustrations. He has pictured Merlin as both piteous and endearing and has portrayed the growing love between the unlikely pair through their facial expressions and body language. The cover picture of Guinevere, with her wings wrapped protectively around the kitten and his eyes closed rapturously as he snuggles into her, is particularly effective. Children will warm to this farmyard fantasy, and, indeed, they picked it as the winner of this year's children's choice Ruth Schwartz award.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Centre, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, in St. John's NF.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364