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The Owl and the Pussycat Hardcover – Sep 1 2007
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Winsome ink-and-watercolor illustrations provide a fine example of the power of artistic interpretation.
... offers readers a sophisticated re-imagining of Lear’s classic children’s poem without losing any of its traditional whimsy in the doing.
About the Author
Stéphane Jorisch's work has won many awards, including three Governor General's Awards for Illustration. He lives in Montreal, Quebec.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
You probably know the poem in its original form. An owl and a pussycat are in love. They sail away, find a pig, get married, and live happily ever after. Straightforward tale, no? No. Under the hand of illustrator Stephane Jorisch, Lear's poem takes on layers of significance that perhaps even he couldn't have predicted. In this tale the pussycat is a bohemian beauty, prone to eclectic clothing and thick-soled boots. The owl, for his part, is undoubtedly a businessman but the two strike up a touching romance. Unfortunately all around them the tongues wag. Animals stick strictly to their own kind and the lovers flee in a boat to "the land where the bong-tree grows". Here they find a far more open society, where people of every conceivable mix of animal happily converge and talk over tea. The piggy-wig, a Blake-like kind of character, presides over all and the wedding of the happy pair comes via a turkey (holding, I might add, a copy of Darwin's, The Origin Of Species for kicks). The ending is all feasting and dancing with a brilliant blue moon shining above.
The "Visions in Poetry" series consistently produces high-quality interpretations of classic poems with the aid of some of the best illustrators working in the field today. For example, there was the inner city take on Casey at the Bat as interpreted by the artist Joe Morse. That book was not only original, but also the new look it sported melded perfectly with the words. In the case of "The Owl and the Pussycat" the pictures here are by one Stephane Jorisch and we've a very similar case of seamless originality. Mr. Jorisch isn't entirely unknown to me. I remember seeing his work on the picture book, Oma's Quilt by Paulette Bourgeois some years back. But while "Oma" was perfectly nice, you would never have gotten a sense that the illustrator was capable of merging, "Fellini, the art of Miro and The Beatles' Yellow Submarine as is found here. This isn't Jorisch's first work with KCP Poetry, mind you. As I recall he did a rather inventive Jabberwocky some time ago as well. Who else would give Carroll's work a futuristic bent? There's real heart to his take on Lear's poem, though. I don't know if this was his interpretation or that of KCP Press, but to make this story a tale of love across mores and uptight morals is perfect for this day and age. You look at this story and see you creatures that might be considered abominations against nature, like unicorns and mermaids, in a warm and open society... well that just has all kinds of implications for us today, does it not? If someone comes up to me asking for gay-friendly literature, I don't think it would be much of a stretch to hand them this book for kicks. It is, after all, a book of love in the purest sense.
Half the fun of the Visions in Poetry series is reading the Afterwards. The piece on Edward Lear speculates that perhaps there's an "undercurrent of melancholy" to his poems that critique the repressiveness of English society of his time. A repressiveness just ripe for Jorisch's pencil, ink, and watercolors. Consider too that in Canada, Jorisch is their David Wiesner. He's won the Governor General's Award for Illustration (their version of the Caldecott) three times already. Give this book a gander and you'll see why. Not only is it a joy to page through, but I loved the little details as well. The pussycat carries around a folder of what might well be her art while the owl sports a briefcase. Both owl and pussycat carry masks of their own faces before they leave in their boat and I love that once they relax in the presence of the pig, the owl opens the collar of his shirt and the pussycat removes her heavy black boots.
For the children of my generation, perhaps "The Owl and the Pussycat" will conjure up the owl and kitty characters on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (think about it). The nice thing about Jorisch's interpretation of the story is that it presents that killer combination of the kid-friendly with the adult-friendly. Children will enjoy the story (how could they not when there are friggin' MERMAIDS in it?) and the irony-laden sophisticates amongst us will display it prominently on their coffee tables. Under normal circumstances I dislike children's books that play to an adult audience, but this book will appeal to both age groups without difficulty. This Valentine's Day, give the kiddies some romantic poetry with a bit of a kick to it. Read this version of "The Owl and the Pussycat" alongside Russell Hoban's remarkable picture book, "The Marzipan Pig", and you'll have an excellent combination of love, both requited and un, to present to the masses.
If you aren't already familiar with Edward Lear's poetry, this volume is a good introduction. Known as a "nonsense" poet of the Victorian era, Lear had a charming touch with words.
In The Owl and the Pussycat a decidedly odd couple fall in love and decide to get married. You've probably heard at least this part of the poem before:
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
Stephane Jorisch's whimsical illustrations suit the poem very well and add to the overall delightful (there's that word again) feel of this book. Included in the back are brief bios of both the poet and the illustrator, again making this a nice collector's item.
Recommended for lovers of poetry and Edward Lear. Good for all ages (though, honestly, the books are so nice I would probably not let my little grubby-fingered one handle it by himself).
But I'd forgotten something about poetry: it's written by an author who pays careful attention to words and rhymes and meter and when you split up those words and meter obnoxiously over multiple pages, it simply Doesn't Work.
I seem to be in the minority here, the only person who actually minds interrupting the poetry reading to turn pages after every single line. The only person who thinks the illustrations are a distraction from the simplicity and oddities of the text.
I also seem to be the only person, perhaps, who finds Lear's original illustrations actually quite charming. Sure, there aren't as many of them as a modern children's book would demand, but that's okay, because it's a poem, and not a very long poem, at that. Your kids can take it, I promise.
When I got annoyed reading this version in book form, my 7-year-old pulled a 1970s-era compendium of Lear's nonsense poetry off the shelf and said, "it's actually in here." She flipped through the book, found the poem, and we read it, along with a couple of others. We had fun with them.
I know there are several "children's editions" of this book floating around, some nicely illustrated and others not so much so.
But honestly, not everything needs updating and improving. Not every classic poem needs a facelift, especially one with strange modern typography and bizarre, cloying illustrations.
The poem itself and its accompanying illustrations are all in the public domain, so you can have it for free on an ereader, and surely you can find a lightly used print copy for not much more than it cost way back in Lear's day. However you do it, you can do better than this edition.
A must for every child's library! I am going to order the other Visions in Poetry titles as well.