Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been? – Dan Bar-el, ill. Rae Maté

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been? – Dan Bar-el, ill. Rae Maté

Preschool to Grade 2  (Simply Read Books, 2011)

Dan Bar-el’s creative extension of the Mother Goose rhyme is a lyrical journey perfectly accompanied by Rae Maté’s dreamy paintings. As the illustrations show, a young girl is asking Pussycat to recount tales of his travels which the pair re-enact by puppet show under the light of a whiskery moon. This framing works magically. Young readers see, through the pair’s imagination, Pussycat’s adventures in France, the far north, Egypt and beyond, his encounters with zany characters and kind strangers, and also his isolation, fear and loneliness.

The exploration of the child’s voice adds an additional layer to this well-loved rhyme. While the tale is Pussycat’s, it is through the child’s questions that the story is discovered. That the young girl was so much in his thoughts while Pussycat was away is also deep and affirming. She asks, “Pussycat, Pussycat, / What kept you brave?” and he fittingly answers, “To know you were waiting / Beyond the next wave.”

Bar-el and Maté have imbued this book with the timeless spirit of a Mother Goose rhyme: Maté’s artwork, rich in colour and texture, depicts vintage steam trains and oil lanterns; Bar-el’s language is beautiful, with loving attention given to natural scansion and rhyme, enhancing the flow of the story; even the artful illustration of the initial letters lends to the book’s classic appeal. My children, aged four through ten, are convinced this is how the rhyme has always been. I’m happy and convinced that this is the way they will always recall it.

Review originally published in Canadian Children’s Book News, Fall 2011

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