Arthur A. Levine

Books: Children | Folk Tale

The Boy Who Drew Cats

The Boy Who Drew Cats paintings by Frederic Clement

The Boy Who Drew Cats

I first read this tale when I was in elementary school. It was one of the stories in my reading book (it was 4th, 5th or 6th grade, I can't remember for certain), and for some reason, this tale stuck with me. Several years ago, Erin found me a copy of the story in a small collection of Japanese folktales, and it was just as I had remembered. (For this, I am eternally grateful to Erin.)

A couple of years ago it came up when I was talking with Jim at the Bookshelf, and he remembered the tale, and said he had read a beautifully illustrated version, he'd see if he could order it. A couple of months later the book came in, and he said that he was disappointed that the illustrations were not what he remembered, and I was thoroughly disappointed and didn't buy the book. After all, I still had the tale in the collection Erin found.

However, I came across a used copy, and from the cover artwork, this was obviously not the book Jim had ordered, so I took a chance, and ordered the book it was used, but marked as in excellent condition. Then I just crossed by fingers and waited.

I have to say that I both love and dislike this version of the book. The paintings are wonderful I really love the artwork. Simply beautiful. However, the tale--as short as it is--deviates from the original in small buy significant ways, and I did not particularly care for the deviations. In this version, the boy is far less independent, and far less of a trouble-maker than in the tale I remembered. In this book the boy who loved to draw, drew cats at the request of the young priest in the temple, but in the other version of the tale, the boy loves to draw cats, and gets in trouble because he cannot help himself, and draws cats everywhere.

This, I think, has serious repercussions for the story. In the original tale, when the boy goes to the haunted temple, he sees the blank screens and paints cats upon them because he cannot help himself--it is what he loves to do. In this version of the story the boy seems much less likely to do this. It is, after all, vandalism in a temple where he would like to become an acolyte.

The original version is also far more bloody, and it was such detail that stuck in my mind all those years.

The artwork, however, makes the book well worth the purchase. So I'll just look through the book, enjoying the pictures, and tell myself the original story in my head, and at the end of the book, imagine the vivid details that stayed with me for so many years, that were unfortunately left out of this version.

(The story, with the ending I remember, can be found here)

Publisher:‎ Dial