CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 2 . . . . September 20, 2002
There seems to be a lot of admiration for the work of Dayal Kaur Khalsa who died at the age of 46 in 1989. I, for one, could never understand the adulation, even after rereading her books and biographical material. Khalsa did make an unusual transformation in life, beginning as a baby boomer Jewish New Yorker who moved to Canada, lived in a Sikh ashram, changed her name and wrote her eight books while she was ill. She obviously found publishers who were intrigued with her writing, and she won many awards. But her works do not match up to the hype.
Green Cat has been published by Khalsa's estate and is a reworking of the traditional folktale that teaches people to appreciate what they have, to learn to share and get along with each other. Tom and Lynn are a brother and sister who are unhappy about sharing a small room, each feeling that s/he is denied the space s/he requires. A green cat inexplicably enters the room and fills it with everything imaginable, from kitchen chairs to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a rainbow and a giraffe. When the room is full, the cat removes everything he has brought. The children agree they have enough room, and the cat says, "Good night, until we meet again."
This folktale is hilarious and memorable when it is told with gusto, but, except for the rhyming scheme, this book lacks plot and character development. Why and how did this cat appear in the story? Why was he green? There is no explanation. What are his qualities? Why is he a peacemaker, and under what circumstances will he see the children again? Tom and Lynn are flat characters who are basically observers that play throughout the book and then complain that the room is too full. Why they or the cat like toast is never explained, either. There is minimal interaction between the cat and the children; the reader is simply supposed to accept and assume a relationship. Khalsa's bright colour illustrations are bright in colour, but they are as flat as the storyline. None of the characters show any expression, and none of the animals the cat has brought into the room appear bothered about the "crowding." The sign in the corner of the room that says "The Best is Yet to Come" is never developed fully in the story.
For an action packed version of this story, I would recommend Such a Noise by Aliana Brodmann, with interesting illustrations by Hans Poppel. Brodmann's characters are believable, interesting and very funny. The plot makes sense, and the illustrations convey frustration, surprise, exasperation and relief. Kids are engaged by the story and the drawings. Little children will not be slapping their knees and laughing after they read Green Cat.
Recommended with reservations.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian 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.