Curious Cat! Learn About the Seasons
written by Maria Denjongpa, illustrated by Phurba Namgay
(Scholastic Early Science series, Scholastic India, 2014)
Curious Cat! is a non-fiction book about the seasons wrapped up in the fictional narrative of a cat’s school in Sikkim in northern India. Miss Kitty is teaching her students about the seasons and all her kitten pupils are attentive apart from Sonam – at least so it seems, but actually there’s a lot going on behind Sonam’s apparent distraction. For one, he is comparing the seasons he hears about (‘There are fours seasons […] winter, spring, summer and autumn’) with what he actually experiences in Sikkim; and when he goes home, he paints the seasons as he knows them. He gets rather carried away drawing a dragon like the ones he imagines roaring from the clouds during a summer thunder storm, and I think that Miss Kitty is on his wavelength when he hands that in as his homework.
The illustrations aptly reflect the Himalayan setting – Phurba Nangay is an artist from Bhutan who specialises in thangka painting and has gained a reputation for blending the traditional and contemporary in his work. The thangka style works beautifully here to evoke the Himalayan landscape and culture, and the contrast of finely inked detail with the graded blocks of colours for the land and sky work well to accommodate the text on the full-bleed pages. I especially like the way the factoids, scattered generously throughout the book, follow the undulating lines of the landscape.
What is very clever about this book is that the narrative contrasts observation of the seasons in the Sikkim climate with the seasons that the kittens are learning about at school – as Sonam ponders on the way home: ‘he wondered which seasons were the true ones. And what were daffodils?’ The book’s author Maria Denjongpa (Miss Lee and the Mosquito) is one of the founders of the not-for-profit Taktse International School in Sikkim and no doubt has experience of this discrepancy between teaching resources and her pupils’ experience: by setting them side by side, she both validates children’s own observation of the seasons and provides them with a gateway to explore the world beyond. I suspect that Maria’s own students absolutely love Curious Cat!, and the book’s universal appeal lies in the mirrored way it offers a similarly rich reading experience to children unfamiliar with Sikkim.
With its gorgeously rich illustrations, its appealing storyline and the surprising amount of information imparted unobtrusively throughout, Curious Cat! is a lovely book for children to delve into the seasons and think about the world both around them and beyond.