In the ninth century C.E., an anonymous, Irish Benedictine monk penned a poem drawing parallels between the pursuits of his cat and his own work; Bogart’s retelling and Smith’s paintings create an accessible window into this world.
The tale begins wordlessly with watercolor-and-ink compositions framed in sequential panels of varying size. Readers follow the titular feline from a forest into the monastery, where he pads under vaulted ceilings to a row of closed doors. From within one, light leaks out, and a robed man with a long, white beard welcomes his friend: “I, monk and scholar, / share my room // with my white cat, Pangur. / By candle’s light, late into the night / we work, each at a special trade.” The voice is lyrical yet easily understood. As the animal stalks a mouse, the monk studies a manuscript. The illuminated pages he pores over present cryptic, Celtic-inspired designs featuring the picture book’s characters. The palette shifts from shadowy panels with spots of golden light to colorful full bleeds depicting the open volume. Contentment and joy are reflected in text and image as the duo move toward the window; joined by a butterfly, they behold the “light in the darkness.”
Reminiscent of the succinct storytelling and expressive brushwork of Chris Raschka and Kevin Henkes, this quiet, historical gem will charm children and adults alike. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-7)