Laurinda’s Rating: 4
The Cat Who Went to Heaven, the 1931 Newbery Medal Winner, is a surprisingly charming story. It’s also, at 60 pages, by far the shortest offering thus far. Basically, an impoverished Japanese artist’s housekeeper brings home a cat instead of food. Although the artist is initially skeptical, the little cat, named Good Fortune, wins him over with her daintiness and reverence for Buddha. Shortly thereafter, the artist receives a commission from the local temple to paint the death of Buddha. He meditates deeply, immersing himself in the life and death of Buddha. The cat watches closely as he paints, particularly when he depicts the animals who came to pay homage to the Buddha. The artist explains to her that “the cat refused homage to Buddha…and so by her own independent act, only the cat has the doors of Paradise closed in her face” (17). He thus initially refuses to paint her into the scene. Good Fortune, saddened by this, stops eating. The artist, fond of Good Fortune, decides to add her to the painting. When she sees it, she dies of happiness. The priests who commissioned the work are livid at the addition of the cat and threaten to burn the whole canvas. Miraculously, while the painting is left unattended overnight, the cat figure moves from the end of the line of animals into Buddha’s arms, representing Buddha’s forgiveness.
Fundamentally, this is a retelling for children of the Buddha’s story, presented in very simple terms. However, the richly drawn cat and the accompanying illustrations elevate this story from a simple moralistic tale to a rather engaging, cute one. I would highly recommend this for the early elementary school crowd as a read-together book or for slightly older children as a book for them to read on their own. After all, who doesn’t love cats?