Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, July 24, 2020

Inside, Outside, What Will You See?

Regardless of their speed, they move in silence.  They were revered in ancient cultures, elevated to roles as deities. They have intermingled and lived with humans for thousands of years, yet they are said to be aloof.  Those humans who share their days with them often disagree with this assessment as does a recent scientific study.  They find them to be the best kind of companions. 

Our feline friends are beloved for a multitude of reasons; perhaps one is their ability to notice what others do not.  In 1985, thirty-five years ago, author illustrator Ashley Wolff published a book titled Only the Cat Saw (Dodd, Mead & Company).  (I was able to obtain a paperback copy released by Puffin Books in November 1988.)  In this book, as a family goes about end-of-the-day and nighttime routines inside their home, their cat makes its own observations of the outside world.

After making a gift of this original edition to her editor of ten years, Ashley Wolff was requested to update the images for a republication. Most of the text remains the same with the exception of a name change and the concluding sentences which add an exquisite enchantment to the story.  All the illustrations, the paintings, are new, supplying readers with enhanced perspectives and a diverse family.  One thing remains wonderfully the same.  This book, Only The Cat Saw (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, June 16, 2020) written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff,  is a classic calming ode to our world at day's end and during an nighttime rain shower, inside and outside a home.

It was suppertime,
and night was coming soon.
Mother was busy with Sam.
Tessa was helping Father.

So only the cat saw . . .

With a page turn, a double-page wordless picture reveals what the cat saw.  In both books the cat is still inside looking out at a pastoral scene as the sun sets behind rolling hills.  The number and size of windows has changed as well as the setting in the foreground and the animals.  We are much closer to the cat, the large geranium plant on the table and other objects.

In each of the subsequent moments, the rhythm of text on the left with accompanying full-page image on the right, followed by a dramatic wordless double-page image is beautifully consistent.  We move with ease and contentment from bath time, to bedtime, to dreams, an unplanned early morning awakening, Mother and Sam awake mere hours later, and then it is time for breakfast.  Each of these episodes in the home runs parallel to the cat's journey outside.

Horses are visited as fireflies become playthings.  From under the cover of large leaves, the cat watches an owl swoop to catch an evening meal of a mouse.  Will the owl or the mouse be the victor?  Perched among slumbering ewes and a ram, the cat watches a star arch across a star-studded sky.

As the rain showers concede to a sunny new morning, the cat watches high above the ground.  When the family members stir inside, a shift in the story takes readers to a new point of view.  There is a time and a place for every being to see and to be seen.

In each portion of the narrative, author Ashley Wolff includes one or all of the family members.  She intimately involves readers in these familial situations.  She creates a cadence for readers using the same format for each selection.  You find yourself holding your breath after you read:

So only the cat saw . . .

You wonder what surprise awaits you with the page turn.  Here is another passage.

At bedtime,
Mother and Father were reading.
Sam was finally asleep,
and Tessa was supposed to be.

So only the cat saw . . .

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you are greeted with a breathtaking, soothing nighttime vista.  As your eyes move from left to right the perspective alters from a background to the foreground on the right.  On the left, as if we are a cat, the two-story family home, lights glowing in some of the windows, rises above wildflowers and grasses in a surrounding meadow.  Behind the home is a starry sky with a full moon.  The white puffs of flowers mirror the moon.  Several moths sip nectar as a small brown mouse freezes on the far left.

On the right, front, the cat comes toward readers, looking directly at us.  If you compare the two front covers, this cat is much closer to us.  It's tail here (and in other scenes) is more curved becoming linked to the title.  This newer cat has different eyes and more distinctive white spots.  The fur is textured.  In the most recent edition two beetles have paused on leaves.  The title text on the jacket is raised.

The opening and closing endpapers are a canvas of golden yellow like the author's name, the flower, and the "O" in the title.  The first illustration on the title page is a single page picture in both editions.  In each one the cat is stretching as if recently waking up.  In the newer version the cat is closer to readers and looking at us.  In this edition of the book is appears as if cooler colors and more vibrant colors have replaced golden shades and subdued hues.

With a page turn we are greeted with a double page picture.  In my older version the mother is hanging laundry.  There is a basket for clothes and one for Sam.  Amy has both arms holding the basket as it rests on the ground.  On a large sheet is the dedication and publication information.  In the new release Dad is hanging up the laundry.  Sam is in front of Dad in a baby carrier.  A small basket on the ground holds clothes pins.  In the laundry basket is a pile of clothes with the cat on top.  Tessa is peeking between two sheets.  The dedication is on one of them. In this book the publication information in on the last page with a stunning picture of the cat.

In the earlier edition all the full-page illustrations were bordered in white.  In this book, the images bleed to the edges.  In all of them we are closer to the subjects.  We are drawn into each location.  The details are many with intricate fine lines.  The use of light and shadow is splendid.  Readers will find comfort in the way the images by Ashley Wolff extend her words.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  The color palette is limited, but it conveys strong emotions.  Inside the barn the ewes, lambs and a ram are curled and cuddled in sleep.  Through the one visible window light from the full moon casts a beam.  The cat is sitting on the body of one of the sheep.  It is looking through the open barn door at the rolling hills, the night sky and the falling star.  You can't look at this picture and not wish to be there.

Both editions of this book are lovely in the lullaby they generate for readers in the words and pictures, but this new release of Only the Cat Saw written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff is eloquent.  Readers will request to have this read to them repeatedly.  It is now one of my favorite bedtime, quiet time, titles.  You could also use this to promote writing, imagining a scene inside a home and what the cat might see outside. There is not a personal or professional collection that would be complete without this title.

If you would like to discover more about Ashley Wolff and her body of work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name to access her website.  Ashley Wolff also has accounts on WordPress, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  In a post at Publishers Weekly Ashley Wolff is interviewed about this new titles and the changes made and why.  I believe you will really enjoy reading it.  In the video below Ashley Wolff talks about the new edition and reads it aloud.

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