Kitten’s Winter, by Eugenie Fernandes

kittens winter

I am thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly, sick of winter.  Even if it wasn’t quite a record breaking winter, it was still cold enough to make me want to cry.

gretl
You should picture me saying “it makes me want to cry” in the heartbreaking (or annoying) petulant voice of Gretl.  Whenever I think of that phrase, I hear her voice.

So I nearly didn’t review this book.  But here I am, with a small window of time between baking a cake (don’t be impressed just yet, there is still time to ruin it) and making dinner (got my priorities straight, thank you!) during which I can review a short book.  This book is short.

So.

We often have library books pass through the house without so much as an eye-bat from either parent.  I mean, there are so many books.  Most of them are perfectly good.  Some of them are hilarious, some of them are genius, and some of them are beloved by small children for no discernible reason.  It’s hard, after awhile, to notice if one is so much better or more interesting than another.

With that in mind, I have two main thoughts about Kitten’s Winter:

  1. It is a book about a kitten.  Yada yada yada.
  2. It has other animals on each page.  Doesn’t every child’s book have animals on each page?  I’m a bit tired, I have to say, of so many animals.
  3. It rhymes.  In couplets.  HUGE SIGH.
  4. The artwork is super, super, interesting.  I mean, I’m no art critic, so I can’t say if it’s Great Art or even Quite Good Art.  But I read/have read a lot of children’s books and pay attention to illustrations, and these are really fascinating.

It’s a bit hard to dig up information about Eugenie Fernandes.  Unlike kidlit with older readers, there is no flyleaf with an “about the author” section.  So all I can tell you is found in her short bio with her publisher.  She lives near a lake in Ontario!  That is very uninformative – she could be a city girl or be living in an isolated hut surrounded by trees.  I suspect the latter – it would explain how she is able to illustrate woodsy Ontario winter scenes with so much accuracy.

Kitten’s Winter is illustrated using mixed media.  Each page is a rendering in relief of a woodland scene.  Layers and layers of paper, paint, cardboard, sticks, leaves, grasses, lichens, and what looks like clay or Plasticine are put together so seamlessly that it’s not until I looked carefully at the pictures that I realized what exactly I was looking at.  For instance, the scene with fox:

kittens winter page

It’s probably hard to tell from this tiny and poor-quality photo I found online, but it includes – at least – the following materials:

  • clay or Plasticine
  • twigs
  • paper with pencil drawn on it
  • some kind of wash – maybe watercolour
  • string or thread
  • what looks like paper, shredded up to look like grasses
  • a tiny pinecone
  • a few pieces of dark bark
  • a few pieces of birch bark
  • some shredded corrugated cardboard
  • twigs
  • white dots of paint that I don’t think are watercolour

The effect is just amazing, if a bit distracting.  By this, I mean that I spent more time looking at how the pictures were made than I did looking at the picture as a whole.

There are other illustrators, like Barbara Reid, who have built small picture-book empires using Plasticine illustrations.  I am anti-empire, mostly because I don’t like being flooded with sameness on bookshelves and I actually nearly shelved Kitten’s Winter because I thought it was yet another boring Plasticine-illustrated book.  In the end, though, I am won over by the use of bits and pieces of everything to make a story about kitten and his animal buddies.

As for the story itself, at one couplet-per-page, it ain’t rocket science.  But baby and I like to flip through it and identify the many (and there are many) animals on each page.  Most of them aren’t named in the text, so it’s kind of like playing “I Spy”.  It’s also nice to have a quasi-realistic book with Ontario mammals and birds that actually look like Ontario mammals and birds.  The baby (16 months) finds it slightly confusing, I think, that so many different birdlike things have different names, but he’s getting used to it.

Reading Ages: Young. Max age is probably 3-4 for kids who are reading it themselves, and 2 for being read to.

Rating: A for the amazing illustrations.  B for falling into the same tepid story-of-an-animal-meeting-animals trap.

Animals, trees, and birds in the book: Kitten, chickadee, grey squirrel, blue jay, fox, various evergreens, white birch, maple?, oak?, beaver, turtle, snail, raccoon, woodpecker, rabbit, mouse, otter, fish, bear, skunk, chipmunk, and a bird that I can’t quite identify but looks like it is an orangey-red cousin of a sparrow.

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