Little kids are great but selfish. This is an objective fact: children, until their brains develop sufficiently to grasp that they are surrounded by people who deserve as much respect and understanding as they do, go about their lives as if they are the bright centre of their own existential universes, wholly ignorant of the needs of others. (Easy joke: many people never get beyond this stage.) In Montreal author and illustrator Marianne Dubuc’s gentle and disarming new picture book, Little Cheetah’s Shadow, two felines learn to act with empathy and generosity.
The book begins with Little Cheetah searching for his missing shadow, which is soon discovered up in a tree, looking lonely and sad (as well as grey and translucent). Little Shadow ran away because of Little Cheetah’s thoughtlessness: Little Shadow never gets to go first, never picks their destination, and always catches his tail in the door as they leave a building. Little Cheetah offers to let Little Shadow lead the way and discovers just how unpleasant it is to be taken for granted. He even gets his own tail caught in a door – because developing empathy can be a painful process. And Little Shadow learns that his corporeal twin was acting out of ignorance, not malevolence. The newly enlightened friends end the day with a snack and a happy game of cards.
Dubuc throws very few curveballs in this morality tale, but even within the narrative framework of “two friends have a conflict then work things out,” she creates a story that draws in young readers and listeners. The climax, in which the darkness of a tunnel is faced together (with the help of a flashlight), is memorable and strangely affecting, despite how brief it is. Dubuc’s pencil-and-watercolour illustrations are similarly gentle and straightforward, with a soft palette consisting mostly of yellows, browns, and greens – no bright primary colours here. This is the perfect book to read to a very young child at bedtime, because it’s nice to do things for other people every once in a while.