The Girl With the Cat
The Girl With the Cat
All day long I think about the letter. Will I be brave enough to deliver it? I walk to the Gallery after school and the wooden door seems heavier than ever. I finally go inside. Mr. Climer’s office door is shut. I knock on it and at first no one answers. Then I hear a voice.
‘Come in,’ it says.”
To nine-year-old Caroline, the bronze Girl with Cat statue was more than just a piece of art sitting in a gallery. The girl, named Nina, and her cat, Sammy (named after the artist and her cat), became Caroline’s first “friends” in Saskatoon when she moved there from Toronto. After being forced to move away from friends and giving away her pet cat, Caroline felt sad and lonely. She took comfort in visiting Nina and Sammy; she asked them questions and told them her own secrets. Along with the many parallels in the story drawn between Caroline and Nina, illustrator Brooke Kerrigan makes this connection even more evident as the book’s Caroline character has the identical looking hairstyle, face, and cat as the statue figure. It is not explicitly stated in the book that Caroline and Nina are identical. Rather, the author and illustrator have left this up to the audience to observe on their own.
When a “MOVING SOON” sign turns up next to Nina and Sammy, Caroline immediately decides that she must take action to stop this (after all, Caroline knows the heartbreak that moving cities can cause). She devises a plan to write a letter to the art gallery director, Mr. Climer. Although she did not receive the immediate response she was hoping for, Caroline receives a pleasant surprise. Mr. Climer was inspired by her letter and took action on his own to successfully prevent the Girl with Cat statue from being returned to the artist in Ottawa. After the good news that they are at the art gallery to stay, Caroline invites other children, and they all enjoy Nina and Sammy’s company together.
At the end of the story, author Beverley Brenna includes two pages about the real-life Caroline who wrote a letter in 1966 to save the Girl with Cat statue housed at Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. This story is intended to inspire young children and demonstrate that they can make a difference, no matter what their age is, through the power of words.
Brooke Kerrigan brings this picture book to life with full-page, mixed media illustrations. She thoughtfully portrays characters and objects from unique visual perspectives where their positions enhance readers’ connection to the story. For example, when Caroline is lying on the carpet thinking of a plan to save Nina and Sammy, the entire two-page spread illustrates the young girl from a close up, bird’s-eye view. The audience is floating above Caroline like her thoughts as she brainstorms ideas. Kerrigan has a signature style which she has used to illustrate and/or design multiple award-winning picture books, including The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain.
Brenna’s storyline and word choice, in combination with Kerrigan’s realistic illustrations, make The Girl with the Cat award-worthy. It is relatable to children, yet reminds them of an important message: they can make a difference. Friendship is another theme portrayed in this story. This charming picture book can be used as a book to read for pleasure, inspiration, or as a teaching tool at home or at school. Possible follow-up activities to reading this story include brainstorming ideas for meaningful letter writing or visiting a nearby (or virtual) museum where students can enjoy experiencing the power of art. These activities and teaching of themes may need adult prompting, or it’s possible that some children may seek these out on their own.
Andrea Boyd is an early years’ teacher in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is currently pursuing her Master of Education degree specializing in Language and Literacy at the University of Manitoba.