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The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1930)

by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,658467,435 (3.77)45
A little cat comes to the home of a poor Japanese artist and, by humility and devotion, brings him good fortune.

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Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
  lcslibrarian | Aug 13, 2020 |
  lcslibrarian | Aug 13, 2020 |
Short and sweet story about love, forgiveness, and doing the right thing. The illustrations in the book are stunning, and I like the addition of the poems - the Songs of the Housekeeper. ( )
  ca.bookwyrm | May 18, 2020 |
Newbery Medal 1931. A cat joins the household of a Japanese painter who is commissioned to paint a picture of Buddha. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
This 1931 Newbery winner is a short novella about a poor Japanese artist who adopts a cat. The artist is commissioned to paint a picture of the death of Buddha. The cat, named Good Fortune, brings the same to the artist and in the end is rewarded by becoming a part of the painting.

Elizabeth Coatsworth was inspired to write this book by her travels in Asia. According to her editor and Vassar classmate, Louise Seaman Bechtel, in her essay “From Java to Maine with Elizabeth Coatsworth” in Newbery Medal Books: 1922-1955 (Boston, Horn Book Inc., 1955, pp. 94-98), Coatsworth said: "Its main inspiration was the Buddhist temples of Borobodur, in Java, a magnificent carved stupa, standing, scarcely in ruins, in a plain surrounded by volcanoes. Among the many carvings on its terraces are some of the animal rebirths of Buddha, which very much took my imagination. Many years later, in the Pasadena Library, I was to read translations of the rebirths and string them together on the thread of a Japanese legend which we had been told in a Kyoto temple, one day in the enchanted October of 1916. Later, Tom Handforth [an American artist and etcher who wrote and illustrated the 1939 Caldecott Medalist Mei Li about his personal experiences in China] sent me a print, which, like the temple scroll, showed a cat coming to mourn the death of Buddha. It was unusual to see a cat among the other animals. These things lay, with a thousand other impressions, long in my mind, and happened to be the ones I could use."

The animal rebirth stories would be the Jataka, fables Buddha originally told to his disciples to illustrate his teachings. Like Aesop, each tale features animal characters, as well as an incarnation of the Buddha from an earlier life, usually as an animal himself. These amusing parables embody some of the central tenets of Buddhist principles of wisdom, heroic action, nonviolence and compassion. Other stories are from the Buddha’s life or other sources.

The Japanese legend referred to is that of Cho Densu. For more details on this as well as the Jataka stories used in this book, see my blog.

From all this, I would say Coatsworth’s book is well-researched and true to the culture it is trying to portray, blending Buddhist folklore and Japanese legend she first learned about on her own travels. Perhaps calling it “The Cat Who Went to Nirvana” would have been more politically correct, but I believe the book is more accessible to children with its present title. ( )
1 vote rdg301library | Oct 2, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
From all this, I would say Coatsworth’s book is well-researched and true to the cultures it is trying to portray, blending Buddhist folklore and Japanese legend she first learned about on her own travels. Perhaps calling it “The Cat Who Went to Nirvana” would have been more politically correct, but I believe the book is more accessible to children with its present title.
added by cej1027 | editNewbery Project (Jan 25, 2009)
Cat Heaven sounds like paradise. A rhyming text describes a realm in which felines are fed from God's countertop, a place where they no longer get stuck in trees because now they can fly. There are thousands of toys, and soft angel laps in which to cuddle. There is even a quiet time to look back on former homes and loving people. The primitive, childlike painting style is similar to Rylant's work in Dog Heaven (Scholastic, 1995). Both books serve the same purpose of comforting anyone mourning a lost pet, but the writing flows more easily and the pictures are more mature in Cat Heaven. The story has spiritualism and reverence but not in a traditional manner. God is depicted as a kindly older man who washes the cats' bowls and "walks in His garden with a good black book and a kitty asleep on His head." His coloring varies from pink to brown to yellowish tan. The visual impact of the book is stunning. Cats of all colors frolic through the exuberantly hued pages. Vibrant yellows, blues, reds, purples, and greens create a feast for the eyes. Even the color of the text changes to contrast with the background. Whether read as a story to younger children or used in a discussion of the nature of heaven with older ones, this deceptively simple, sweet book is rewarding.
added by ReneHohls | editSchool Library Journal, October 1997, Vol. 43, p108, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst (May 7, 1997)
Most of Coatsworth's stories are quiet tales, some of them disappointingly flat to today's children, and others are filled with mystery and a sense of mythic time. Her prizewinning story, The Cat Who Went to Heaven , captures the mystery and the compassion of the Buddha--a figure being painted by the artist in the book. As the artist recalls traditional Buddhist stories about the sacrifices of the snail and the elephant, the heroism of the horse, the dreamlike beauty of the swan, the honesty and dignity of the buffalo, the compassion of the monkey, and the petitions for mercy spoken by the doe, he paints them all into his picture. Because, of all the animals, the cat had refused homage to Buddha, tradition requires the artist to omit the cat. However, since the artist had so often seen his cat praying to Buddha, he violates this tradition. Offended by the presence of the cat in the picture, the priests take the artist's picture to burn it. Overnight, however, a miraculous change in the picture occurs: "the Buddha whom he had painted ... had stretched out an arm in blessing, and under the holy hand-knelt the figure of a tiny cat, with pretty white head bowed in adoration." The interweaving of Buddhist myth and legend with observations of the cat and the artist creates a story with mystery and reverence for all life. The story's strength lies in its economy and its mythic power.
In 1930 Ward did the original woodcuts for Elizabeth Coatsworth's The Cat Who Went to Heaven, the Newbery Medal winner. The story concerns a poor artist who was commissioned by a priest to make a drawing of the last days of the Lord God Buddha. Incorporated into the narrative are details of the life-style of Buddha, touching on his humanity and sacrifices for others. For each quality—such as courage, nobility, honesty, and fidelity—an animal is put into the artist's composite painting. Only the cat is omitted, because of his supposed unworthiness; yet in the end, the artist relents and to represent love and tenderness draws a cat into the picture. Lynd Ward's illustrations for the original 1930 edition of The Cat Who Went to Heaven are done in shades of black and gray, starkly simple yet in perfect harmony with the oriental mood of the text.

Coatsworth's book was republished in 1958, and he was again asked to do the illustrations. The beautiful pictures for this edition were prepared on Japanese rice paper, printed in two colors, buff and gray, with a sepia background. Still suggesting the feel of the Orient, they are more detailed, more numerous, but equally effective as an interpretation of the text.
added by Taphophile13 | editLynd (Kendall) Ward. American Writers for Children, 1900-1960. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 22., Ophelia Gilbert (May 6, 1983)

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Coatsworth, Elizabeth Janeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Craig, DanielCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
JaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, LyndIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Cyra Thomas
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Once upon a time, far away in Japan, poor young artist sat alone in his little house, waiting for his dinner.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A little cat comes to the home of a poor Japanese artist and, by humility and devotion, brings him good fortune.

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In ancient Japan a struggling artist is angered when his housekeeper brings home a tiny white cat he can barely afford to feed.
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