As long as I have been reading children’s books, it surprises me that there are Newberry Medalists that I have never heard of. However, there are actually a good many that I never knew existed. Such is the case with the most recent book that I read to my six year old, Ellie. The Cat Who Went to Heaven was the Newberry Medal winner for the year 1931, and the story surrounds a penniless painter who is given a big and prestigious assignment, his housekeeper and a stray cat that she brings home from the market.
As the painter works to bring to life a scene of Buddha’s end of life, he meditates on the different animals that paid homage to Buddha, while noting 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.” He begins to paint in Buddha and the animals, and the cat watches. Will he go with a traditional scene or will he include the cat, even though cats are viewed poorly by the Buddhists around him?
Ellie says that this is a five star book. She says, “It was good because it is good.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I think that she means that she enjoyed the story, but perhaps, she didn’t find it to be memorable.
I found that this was a delightful little story. It doesn’t have much substance to it, and the fable itself is actually kind of bittersweet. However, most Buddhist tales that I have read don’t have saccharine sweet endings, so this is appropriate. I think that I am going to give this book to my twelve year old. He enjoys cats and books about them, and he hasn’t had a lot of comparative religion, so this is a good and gentle reminder of who Buddha is and teaches a little about his life and some general ideas about Buddhism.