2016 in [Book] Review Books DiverseKidLit Picture Books Reading Themes

[DiverseKidLit] Monks, Cats, and Meditation in 2016 Picturebooks

Myra here.

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When I borrowed quite a number of 2016 picturebooks from the library, I noticed that these two seem to pair well together. What is it, indeed, about monks and cats that seem to inspire quiet and meditation?

img_9545The Cat From Hunger Mountain

Written and Illustrated by: Ed Young
Published by: Philomel Books, 2016
ISBN: 0399172785 (ISBN13: 9780399172786)Borrowed a copy from the Jurong West Public Library. Book Photos taken by me. 

As I was thinking of the best way to describe this book, the word parable comes to mind. It has  that folktale-fable vibe to it about bad creatures receiving its comeuppance in the end, and how good will eventually triumph.


This story introduces young readers to a proud, greedy, and abominably-wealthy Lord Cat who lived in Hunger Mountain. And just like most creatures who are holding high positions of power and influence, Lord Cat’s greed is insatiable – as evidenced in his expensive golden clothing to lavish meals prepared by the finest chefs.


And since he can not abide half-empty pots of rice, he threw them away. It was a life of wastefulness and outright profligacy – until the land suffered from an unexplained drought that lasted for over two years. This proud Lord Cat was reduced to a beggar whose wealth could not spare him from the loss of what nature provides.


As Lord Cat wandered around the city, starving, looking for some place to eat, he heard of a blessed monk who provided free food to hungry and homeless creatures such as himself. The story of how the monk came upon the food he distributes for free to those who are in need is something that deserves to be thought about a second, third, even fourth time. A piercing tale with a clear moral about the dangers of wastefulness – complemented by Ed Young’s signature collage art.

The White Cat And The Monkimg_9550

Written by: Jo Ellen Bogart Illustrated by: Sydney Smith
Published by: Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2016
ISBN: 1554987806 (ISBN13: 9781554987801). Borrowed a copy from the Jurong West Public Library. Book Photos taken by me. 

The Author’s Note found at the back of the book indicates that this is a retelling of a poem called Pangur Ban written by an Irish Benedictine monk, whose name has been lost in history.


From what historians could gather, the monk must have written the poem while he was in southern Germany at the Reichenau Abbey. The poem has since then been translated into different languages over the years, as it allowed a glimpse into the mind of a scholar and his pet as he ruminates about the life of words in a quiet world.


Frankly, I did not expect to love this as much as I did – but I was floored by the typography, the quiet contemplation of a scholarly life, and the muted earthy tones that suggest a life grounded in diligent study surrounded by “the peaceful pursuit of knowledge.” Honestly, what’s not to love?


I find it to be a profound meditation on a rich life surrounded by books, the companionable solitude with a beloved pet who has its own equally-weighty pursuits, and the search for meaning and light in what once was dark.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

3 comments on “[DiverseKidLit] Monks, Cats, and Meditation in 2016 Picturebooks

  1. I love The White Cat and the Monk too – and I hadn’t spotted Ed Young’s new book so thank you for pointing it out!


  2. I adore The White Cat and the Monk! And it’s a book that seems to pair well with others — in my stack of picture books, it seemed to go naturally with Magic in the Margins, W. Nikola-Lisa’s delightful book about medieval bookmaking.


  3. As a cat lover, I heartily approve of this post! I love the two very different artistic styles, both so visually striking!


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