The Cat Who Went to Heaven
Elizabeth Coatsworth (Juvenile Fiction)
Once upon a time, far away in Japan, a poor young artist sat alone in his little house, waiting for his dinner. But on this particular day, dinner was not coming. Instead, inside the housekeeper’s little bamboo basket was a small white cat with yellow and black spots on her sides. But the artist could barely provide for the two of them let alone a third! Fortunately, a tri-colored cat is a very lucky thing to have and so she was kept and named Good Fortune. True to her name, good fortune followed her and soon the head priest from the temple arrived and commissioned the artist to paint the death of the lord Buddha. It seemed that the luck of everyone…and everything…in the household was about to change.
Written in 1930 and awarded the Newberry Medal in 1931, The Cat Who Went to Heaven is a short book (just 63 pages) brimming with lessons of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Elizabeth Coatsworth’s book has been reprinted twenty-four times, but I suggest selecting the version containing Lynd Ward’s exquisite illustrations. His drawings bring an added depth and richness to Coatsworth’s beautiful words and will allow readers to fully immerse themselves within this exotic and mystical world.
The Cat Who Went to Heaven is recommended for ages 10 and up, but younger audiences may enjoy it as a bedtime story. The short chapters followed by a summarizing poem make it an ideal nighttime read. Most of the book centers around the artist painting various animals which Buddha embodied throughout his life. Each animal has its own story, and each story has its own moral including honesty, kindness, fidelity, and bravery. The story is charming and flows like silk, but the ending is abrupt (it even took me a bit by surprise) and may not sit well with more sensitive readers. Not to spoil the story, but the title IS an indicator as to how this story ends so forewarned is forearmed.
“Forgiveness” is the centerpiece of this book and it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and human rights activist, who once said, “Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” Coatsworth wrote her book a year before Archbishop Tutu was born, but she too must have realized the sentiment behind these words because through forgiveness, she has given Good Fortune a very happy beginning, which in turn gives her readers a truly happy ending.
*Book cover image attributed to www.tvtropes.org
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