Newbery Project – Cat Who Went to Heaven

A cat watches as his owner paints a picture of animals for Buddhist monks. The painter loves his cat but knows that he cannot put a cat within the picture because cats are the one animal that was not blessed by Buddha.

This is the first book Newbery canon that I’ve read that I just did not like much. All of the other books so far I’ve been able to appreciate what the committee saw in the book to have honored it. But this one just leaves me cold.

I didn’t think the prose was particularly spectacular. I didn’t think the setting was particularly stellar. It gives a generic “Asian” setting, but I don’t think it felt exclusively Japanese, other than the one offhand comment about samurai. Also, the title is not very culturally accurate, since the cat would not have gone to Heaven, she would have achieved Nirvana.

The pacing felt slow to me, and very repetitive. Once the artist started painting it went: think about this, paint this, think about this, paint this. The stories themselves were fairly interesting, largely because I wasn’t already familiar with most of them, but I also kept thinking that they could have been better. It’s never a good sign when you’re reading a story and thinking, “hmm, that’s a pretty cool story, now here’s how it could have been presented to make it an awesome story…” If this is the 1930 winner it doesn’t make me particularly eager to read the honor books, of which there are an unusually large amount.


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