Some beings have light inside them, carefully hidden. All it takes is that split-second choice to release that glow until it radiates farther and farther out into the universe. Pigeon & Cat (Christy Ottaviano Books, Little, Brown And Company, June 21, 2022) written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway is indeed a tale of friendship by an unlikely pair, but it is much more. It is a story about the power of love, a love made visible. This kind of love can change a vacant lot and a community and all who dwell there.
In an abandoned city lot there sits a cardboard box.
Inside the box lives Cat.
The box has withstood the test of time, keeping Cat warm and dry. Cat has a few possessions inside the box, the bare necessities. At times, he leaves the city lot to search for food in nearby dumpsters. When Cat sleeps, it is always with one eye open. This allows him to keep others away should they dare to step into his space.
Near a window ledge on a rather breezy evening, a nest falls to the ground. Inside is a perfect unbroken egg. Cat decides not to eat it and takes it to his box. As Cat watches, a baby pigeon breaks through the shell. The two greet each other.
Cat tends to the baby bird as a mother would. Pigeon's first melodious notes lull Cat to sleep. Pigeon grows and is soon flying. When she goes to the top of a building surrounding the lot, she can't wait to visit the world spread in front of her. Cat warns her, but Pigeon flies away. When she returns, she brings Cat a gift of red chalk. Cat is astonished at her generosity.
Day after day, Pigeon brings forgotten gems to Cat. Cat, in turn, releases the hidden light inside himself and fashions colorful wall art with those gifts. One day, storm clouds roll in and Pigeon does not come back to the city lot. After the storm passes, Cat calls and calls for Pigeon. She has disappeared. Cat does what he has never previously done. He leaves the lot and ventures into the city.
Cat looks everywhere for Pigeon, leaving her drawn messages with the chalk she gave him. Week after week Cat seeks Pigeon, sometimes he even gives away gifts to other strays. One day, Cat spies birds carrying something unusual. He follows them. He can't believe where he is. He can't believe what he sees. Believe it, Cat. Believe.
Meticulously chosen words by Edward Hemingway create short intentional sentences supplying readers with a true sense of the life Cat lives before and after the arrival of Pigeon. These words, verbs and adjectives, elevate the meaning of the narrative beautifully. When Pigeon speaks to Cat, Edward Hemingway places tiny pictures (emojis) in her speech balloons to convey her meaning. This invites participation by readers, bringing them further into the tale. Here is a single sentence and another passage. The sentence describes Pigeon's egg elegantly.
White as fish bone and warm as summer rain, it's too beautiful to eat.
The lot isn't much, but it's become nothing without Pigeon. Gathering all his
courage and some possessions, Cat climbs over the fence and into the city.
oil paint on board with hand-cut paper and Photoshop,
we get our first look at the artwork of Edward Hemingway for this book on the open dust jacket. Not only are we introduced to Pigeon and Cat, but we see how Pigeon communicates. Their admiration and affection for each other is evident in their facial expressions. To the left of the spine which features tiny heads of Pigeon and Cat, we are shown portions of an interior collage. Here we see items retrieved by Pigeon for Cat. The ISBN is cleverly included in one of the geometric spaces. These spaces surround a rectangle with these words inside:
Pigeon and Cat form a lasting
bond in this poignant picture book
about compassion and friendship.
On the open book case from left to right is a vast cityscape. In the pastel sky replete with pastel dots flies Pigeon on the right. She is clearly excited. A circle highlighting a drawn hopscotch game points to a rooftop. The game is drawn in red chalk. This image from the book is wordless.
On the opening and closing endpapers is a pattern in a blue canvas with cream lines and an array of pastel and sometimes darker dots. (This would be splendid wallpaper.) With a page turn, we come to the verso and title pages. Here on the first, within a circle, Cat is drawing Pigeon on a brick wall. On the title page, Cat is seated outside his newly decorated box. Pigeon speaks of her happiness and love for Cat.
The visuals by Edward Hemingway vary in size from dramatic double-page pictures to single-page pictures, some with insets, and striking black and white silhouettes cut from paper. Sometimes a page will be broken into borderless panels. The backgrounds vary according to the narrative. Perspectives vary too, taking us close to an event or giving us a grand view. One of the businesses is named Eddies. On one of the billboards we read:
BUY BUY BUY
BUY BUY BUY.
As pages are turned, readers will be looking at the included details and measuring the contrasts like the one between Pigeon and the BOXES sign and the city beyond the city lot. They will find themselves interpreting Pigeon's speech and a few foreign language words. They will see love and hope growing.
One of my many favorite illustrations is toward the end of the book. It is a single page picture. On a pale dusty pink canvas is a large oval image. Framing it is a collection of dots in an assortment of hues and sizes. Inside on a cream background in black are Pigeon and Cat. Cat is holding Pigeon in his hands. Pigeon is speaking in pictures. Cat replies in pictures. This is a very moving moment.
These two creatures defy what nature tells us about felines and birds. In Pigeon & Cat written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway, the words love finds a way are realized. This title will be a much-requested book to be reread repeatedly and shared widely. No collection, personal or professional, will be complete without a copy.
To discover more about Edward Hemingway and his other work, please access his website by following the link attached to his name. Edward Hemingway has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. At the publisher's website, you can download a six-page curriculum guide and a four-page activity kit. This title is showcased by Betsy Bird at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production and by John Schu at Watch. Connect. Read. Both interviews are stellar, disclosing much about this title and Edward Hemingway's art.