Quill and Quire


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by Mary Alice Downie, Kathryn Naylor, illus.

Mary Alice Downie and Kathryn Naylor know cats. They passed the feline literary initiation in The Cat Park and have come together again for a winter cat fantasy. Sam, youngest of his family, has no regular playmate until his older brother and sister build him a huge snow cat, SnowPaws, with marble eyes, broom-bristle whiskers, and a pair of red earmuff ears. After dark SnowPaws comes alive and takes Sam on rides through the night sky. They swoop and play and visit all parts of the city. In a neat piece of parallel plotting Downie slides in the story of Sam’s real flesh-and-blood cat, Emilie. Emilie’s worrying disappearance and her eventual homecoming with a kitten engages Sam’s and the reader’s attention while SnowPaws succumbs to the inevitable spring melt. Thus the built-in tragedy of every snow creature’s fate is mitigated by new life. Sam rejects his siblings’ suggestion that they name the new black-and-white cat Socks, and instead names it SnowPaws.

Naylor’s soft watercolours celebrate the “old cold” city where Sam lives, its wrought-iron balconies, hectic street life, its harbour and mountain and its colourful festivals. The contrasting shapes of big, white, amorphous, genial SnowPaws and lithe, black, alert, haughty Emilie – the dream and the real – tie the story together. This isn’t exactly new material. For the magical night flight we have Briggs’s The Snowman, for the magical winter cat Kaur Khalsa’s Snow Cat, and for the evanescence of snow, Keats’s The Snowy Day. But the more the merrier on these themes and SnowPaws is nonetheless charming for treading familiar picture book paths on its little cat feet.