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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Oscar and the Mooncats
Oscar and the Mooncats
by Lynda Gene Rymond, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli
Houghton Mifflin,(October 2007)
Oscar loved his boy.
He also loved stinky cat food for breakfast and crunchy cat food for dinner. He loved his catnip mouse and his red pillow by the window.
More than anything else, though, he loved to jump up to places where he could watch...everything.
--Oscar and the Mooncats, by Lynda Gene Rymond, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli, p. 1-4.
Oscar, the cat, loves his boy, and food, and his catnip mouse--but most of all, jumping to high places. One day he leaps so high he lands on the moon. There he is distracted by mooncats, who want to make him one of them. Oscar almost falls to the temptation--but then he hears his boy calling, and he finds his way home, even past difficulties. Oscar and the Mooncats is story where love between a child and his cat is strong enough to help the cat find his way home again.
The story is told from Oscar the cat's perspective, and many details feel true to a cat--his love of stinky wet food, his boy, and leaping from height to height where he can watch everything. Rymond (The Village of Basketeers) also has the cat-feeling down pat with Oscar wriggling back on his haunches and springing as he leaps, and Oscar's way of describing other creatures, such as hop-toads and the dog-thing next door. The games the cats want to play on the moon also feel very cat-like. Cat lovers, especially, will enjoy the language. At times the text feels a little slow, with a few brief paragraphs or scenes that feel unnecessary, and that slow the story down. But for the most part, the text moves well.
Rymond's text has a homey feel, added to by the concrete everyday details, such as stinky wet cat food, the boy in the bubble bath, toads in the lettuce patch. Rymond lets the reader know what Oscar's normal life is like before he makes the great leap that takes him all the way to the moon. When Oscar meets the mooncats, everything changes, and a subtle thread of danger runs through the story, one that sensitive or mature readers will pick up on; when Oscar asks the mooncats questions, they look at each other and smile, and they keep encouraging him to drink the moon cream. This sense of danger and tension is also built up by Oscar almost taking a drink of the moon cream three times, and three times being interrupted before he actually does. Readers are then let into the secret of what would have happened if Oscar had drunk the moon cream--he would have forgotten his boy and become a mooncat, and his boy wouldn't know him. This makes the ending all the more poignant when Oscar finds his way home, against many odds, that he's scooped up and loved by his boy.
It's a nice touch that twice when Oscar was prevented from drinking the moon cream, it was his boy calling him that stopped him--showing the bond of love between a child and his cat, and the way that love can sometimes protect us. Rymond also shows the strength of love between a child and his cat in the way that Oscar could hear his boy calling him, even though Oscar was so far away.
Oscar doesn't give up, even when he's told to, and even though the moon is too far away to jump back to the earth, or so we're told. Instead, he leaps on the cow and from there falls to earth, keeping his mind on his boy and his home, and that helps him get there (again, showing the power of love, and also of belief). The scenes with the mooncat and the feeling of danger may be a bit too long for some young and sensitive readers, perhaps even more because the danger is so subtle yet heavy. The fantasy also feels a bit surreal at times, and not completely cohesive.
The mooncats make an interesting metaphor. They jumped to the moon so long ago they don't remember their people, the ones they love--that you can get so caught up in other things (material things, problems, whatever) that you forget the ones you love, or your own true self.
The ending should feel reassuring to most readers; Oscar makes it safely home with his boy, and dreams of adventures but of always, always coming home.
The incredible texture and three-dimensionality of Ceccoli's (The Village of Basketeers) mixed-media illustrations (plastercine, acrylics, collage, and computer graphics) make this book visually stand out. THe illustrations seem to pop off the page. The textures, too, are stunning; it almost looks like you can touch the boy's hair, and the roughness of his shirt. Characters and some foreground details are in sharp detail, while some background details are fuzzier, bringing the perception of depth. This also helps make the characters stand out even more. The plastercine and three-dimensionality of Ceccoli's work also brings an almost unreal feeling to the story, and that, along with the stardust that follows Oscar's leaps, and Oscar being on the moon, helps place the story firmly in fantasy.
Ceccoli uses visually interesting perspectives, sometimes as if from Oscar's point of view (though still including Oscar in the illustration), such as looking down from a lamp fixture that he swings on. Ceccoli also makes great use of pattern, even on the cats themselves, which brings visual interest.
In at least two illustration, there are multiple illustrations within the same scene, showing Oscar and the mooncats in different positions on the moon. Because there are no clear differentiations between the space and time, and because it's all on the same surface of the moon, this may be confusing to some readers.
Ceccoli draws on the emotion in Rymond's text, making the moon look barren, endlessly grey, and cold, and the house where Oscar lives with his boy warm and homey with yellow tones echoed in Oscar himself. The mooncats are also grey and washed out like the moon, while Oscar is bright and vivid. Clearly, the place to be is home.
Kids will enjoy poring over the illustrations and finding all the fun details, such as spaceships with aliens in the night sky, different planets than many of those we recognize, and a dog jumping after the leaping cat. The sun and stars are incorporated throughout the house and the boy's objects. This seems fitting, since the sun is often seen as the opposite of the moon, where Oscar would have been lost to the boy, and the sun and stars visually carry the theme of the sky throughout the book. Stars are found on the boy's shirt and on some toys, and the sun in the kitchen.
Oscar and the Mooncats is a story to be savored. Though some readers may be put off by the surrealness of the story, it's an enjoyable fantasy that reinforces the importance of being with the people and animals that you love. Recommended.
Want more books?
Go back to Fantasy & Magic: Let Your Imagination Soar to find great Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach.
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