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Archive for January 20th, 2018

by Sam Juliano

Big Cat, little cat  is handsome, silhouette-laden monochrome minimalism applied to surprisingly powerful emotional effect. Mo Willems and Jon J. Muth collaborated back in 2010 on an equally resonant work about death and the cycle of life, City Dog Country Frog which that year was being seriously posed for Caldecott consideration at numerous children’s book forums. I dearly love the earlier book, and I regard Elisha Cooper’s Big Cat, little cat just as passionately. My wife and I are long time cat owners, and we’ve gone through this sadness more times than I’d like to remember.  Cooper, a veteran author-artist has with this square-trimmed work fully realized the old adage less is more.  Yet, the artistic unity, superlative use of white space, and attractiveness of the style both hits home with young readers and adults fully attuned to the concept of emotional simplicity.  Beneath all the familial/pet camaraderie Cooper’s book is anchored by a somber underpinning.  It is an all-too-telling reminder to those who have come to regard their beloved felines that no living creature can eclipse life expectancy, or at least rarely too far beyond the time clock status quo.  Nonetheless, this spare story about friendship largely dwells on the domestic bliss which develops when new additions alter the normal functions of solitary existence.  The “old” cat is understandably bigger and all-too-familiar with the the house regulations.  He gives the new charge, imagined in solid black, some ‘how to’ lessons, showing him the food and water bowls, litter box, a spot for rest, and some advice on how to behave.   Cooper’s double page close-up canvas of the grown cat and kitten cuddled negotiated in black, white and background beige is sublime and the most potent depiction of bonding.  A series of comparative vignettes showing the kitten’s growth till it even surpasses that of the house’s weathered civet, conclude in a striking titular alteration: Big cat, bigger cat.

The cats lived in the city and every day there was “work”.  Their “cooking” is waiting near the refrigerator to be fed, “cleaning” is licking each other as cats are prone to do, climbing on couches, “hunting” which constitutes watching an outside bird feeder and its erstwhile residents, and “making plans” which lead to a daily five minute ritual of tumbling and turning in playful immersion that is too often misinterpreted as an old-fashioned alley fight.  again Cooper uses white space to astounding effect, painting a double page canvas more spirited than anything full color can accomplish.  But keeping it as simple as is pictorially possible the emotions culled are more resonant.  And the power of suggestion, so artfully employed by cinema master Val Lewton in his low-budget 1940 genre features is so much more effective than showing every detail.  Kids particularly are best served by tapestries that spur their own visionary potential. (more…)

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