Review Blog

Sep 25 2008

Cat on the island by Gary Crew and Gillian Warden

cover image

Angus and Robertson, 2008.
Gary Crew demonstrates just how powerful a picture book can be in getting across an environmental message to all ages in this new book, beautifully illustrated by Gillian Warden. When the boy asks his grandfather to tell him a story, he hears about his forebears, sent to an island to take up the position of lighthouse keeper. Moving, the family takes their cat, and when she gives birth, the kittens eventually travel all over the island, feasting on the small wrens which live there.

When one of the cats brings in a dead bird in its mouth, the lighthouse keeper wraps it up and sends it to the museum. This attracts the interest of the naturalist but when he arrives at the island to trap some of the birds, the only flightless wrens in the world, he cannot find any. They have all been hunted to extinction.

The island is real. Stephens Island off the coast of New Zealand hosted the family and its cat in 1894. Within two years, no wrens were left.

The seemingly simply told story is explosive in its message. Any person reading or hearing it cannot help but be dismayed along with the little boy who asked for the story to be told. The illustrations serve the story well. At first calm and liquid, getting increasingly menacing as the story progresses, the eyes of the cat become larger, until the double page spread of a heavily clawed and nastily toothed cat looms up in red, ready to attack the reader.
Fran Knight

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