In reading Lloyd Alexander’s picture books, I observe three things: 1) he is well-versed in a broad range of folklore traditions, 2) he loves cats, and 3) he’s a great storyteller. While his stories contain more Story than Truth, they are cleverly written and worth sharing.
How the Cat Swallowed Thunder, illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner. Dutton Children’s Books, 2000. This story borrows the character of Mother Holle character found in Grimm’s fairy tales and renames her Mother Holly. In this story, Mother Holly instructs her troublesome cat to keep house for her while she is out tending her doves and bees and mending the leaky brook. While she is gone, the cat’s efforts go awry and he ends up meddling in her watering can of April showers, the bag full of thunder-corn, the March-wind bellows, and creating a literal snowstorm from the goose feathers. Amazingly enough, the house is immaculate by the time Mother Holly returns—all except for a tiny kernel of corn, which leads the cat to confessing all that happened in her absence and has lasting consequences for all cats.
The House Gobbaleen, illustrated by Diane Goode. Dutton 1995. Tooley thinks his miserable luck has changed on the day when, in spite of his cat’s warnings, he invites a leprechaun into his house (“Once in, never out; once out, never back!”). Instead, the demanding leprechaun threatens to eat Tooley out of house and home, and the clever cat must intervene on his master’s behalf.
Dream of Jade, illustrated by D. Brent Burkett. Cricket Books, 2005. Dream-of-Jade is yet another wise cat whose first success arises when she dares to look at the emperor (can anyone cite this literary allusion?) and saves his life. This book is longer than the others reviewed here, but the book is only four short, beautifully illustrated chapters long. In the rest of the book, Dream-of-Jade becomes the emperor’s most trusted counselor by awakening his heart and helping him to become a better ruler of his people.
The Fortune-Tellers, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Dutton, 1992. Although I found plenty of lizards in the illustrations, I only found two places where a housecat was depicted, and it is not a character in the story. Oh well. A carpenter in Cameroon is tired of his trade and goes to seek the advice of a fortune-teller whose conditional prophecies are without guarantee. (e.g. “You shall wed your true love,” said the fortune-teller, “if you find her and she agrees.”) Through a curious twist that is not revealed until near the end, the young man becomes the fortune-teller’s successor and discovers that other folks are as gullible as he is. Makes me think of modern-day advertising.
We hope you’ve added another author to your reading repertoire this week! The late Mr. Alexander, who would have turned 90 last January, was certainly a gifted writer with many other stories in his legacy, besides the Prydain Chronicles and Vesper Holly series. We’d love to hear about your favorites!