The Boy Who Drew Cats

The Boy Who Drew Cats by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Aki Sogabe.
Holiday House, 2002.

I wasn't planning on devoting three days in a row to Japanese folk tales. It just turned out that way!

It is the last day of school. Last week, I had a reading date with Big Sis's third grade class. There are only 3 or 4 kiddos who were in her class last year, so I decided to bring out the Fairy Tale Comics again. They were a huge hit last time, and once again, they did not fail to entertain. The kids who heard me read last year called out requests.  I picked the opening story, however. My favorite comic is Hildafolk-creator Luke Pearson's take on the Japanese fairy tale, "The Boy Who Drew Cats." You can see the whole thing at his website. [When I read it, I do voices. My "boy" voice is one of my favorites. I really missed my calling. I should have been a voiceover artist.]

On a lark, I decided to see if there were any other versions of the story at the library. It isn't in any of the folktale collections we own or have  checked out. Sure enough, I found this lovely picture book from 2002.

Kudos to Mabel for deciding to photobomb my lead picture. She likes to get in my way, but I didn't mind this time.

The story is simple. A farmer's youngest son isn't as tough or strong as his brothers, so he is sent to be an apprentice at a temple. The problem is, all he wants to do is draw pictures of cats. Everywhere.

After he defaces the temple, the old priest sends him on his way. He gives him one important piece of advice: "Avoid large places at night; keep to small."

He wanders until he finds an old temple. He stops to inquire about a place to rest, not knowing that the place was abandoned because a giant goblin-rat lived there. The goblin had killed many brave warriors.

Not knowing a bit of this, the boy goes inside. There are blank screens inside, perfect for cat pictures. He sets to work.

Night falls. He is about to settle in for the night, when he remembers the old priest's warning: "Avoid large places at night; keep to small." Finding a small cabinet, he crawls inside to sleep.

During the night, a loud ruckus takes place in the temple. The noises are terrible and frightening, but the boy stays in his cabinet, until the first hint of daylight streams in through a crack in the cupboard. All is quiet. He opens the cabinet...

and finds a gigantic goblin-rat, dead on the floor. There is blood everywhere. Looking at his drawings, he notices something new: there is fresh blood on the mouths of his cats.

This picture book concludes with the boy becoming a famous artists. Specifically, he grows up to be Sesshū Tōyō, as you can read in the author's note at the end.

I love the illustrations in this version. Count the kitties! There is at least one cat on almost every page.

Unfortunately, this one has gone out of print, but used copies do not seem very expensive. Or you can do as I do, and check your local library!

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