26 July 2006

Rohmann piles up Cats and Rabbit

Eric Rohmann's The Cinder-Eyed Cats is one of my favorite fantasy picture books of recent years. It's definitely one of the purest, swimming in a fantastic world for no other reason but to enjoy the mix of danger and power and spectacle and wonder.

Unlike Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, this journey to a strange, wild place isn't prompted by the young protagonist's anger. Nor does it seem to be a dreamland; the boy naps during his adventure, not at the start. And while the island of the cats and the flying fish is the most fantastic landscape in the book, even before the boy reaches that place sailboats hover over the water like dirigibles. It's picturesque fantasy for its own sake.

Another interesting detail of Cinder-Eyed Cats is that the text never mentions that boy. The cats and sea creatures dance every twilight, the text implies. The boy just happens to arrive at the right time, but is welcome in the play.

Rohmann seems to like the image of animals standing on each other's backs in a tower. The cats do so toward the end of this book so the boy can wave goodbye to cloudy whales (or are those cetacaean clouds?). Rohmann's Caldecott Medal-winning My Friend Rabbit, written and drawn in a very different style, is all about the building of another pile of animals as narrator and title character try to retrieve a mouse-sized airplane from a tree.

One detail of Rabbit seems wrong to me: Rabbit brings each new animal to the tower from the right of the page spread. That means that on most spreads the action moves right to left; usually picture books in English flow left to right, the direction in which we read, the direction where the next page spread will be found. I've tried picturing the spreads flopped the other way to see if that kneecaps the suspense or the jokes, and I still think Rabbit hops the wrong way.

1 comment:

Chaucerian said...

Here's where I was baffled on _My Friend Rabbit_: the tree in which the airplane is caught is on the right-hand side of the page spreads, yet the animals are pushed "on-stage" from the right. I didn't get what was going on at all. Where had the tree gone? Had we all moved somewhere else? Why didn't the tree get in the way? So my quibble with the book was not so much left-rightness but internal inconsistency. If I needed an elephant to get something out of a tree, I would push the elephant toward the tree, not away from the tree or through the tree.
I hate being baffled by a book designed for pre-readers.