The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree by Penelope Lively

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The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree by Penelope Lively

Category: For Sharing
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: A magical story about stories in a setting of a huge banyan tree heavy with myth and imaginary creatures; it's a remarkable book by a Booker winner; a true proof that books for small children hugely benefit from high-quality writing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 32 Date: January 1994
Publisher: Candlewick Press,U.S.
ISBN: 1564023257

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There is magic in stories and it is at its strongest when they are told by an accomplished, skilled storyteller. Let's call it a Scheherezade principle. Stories are, as we all know, different: short and long, fast and slow, funny and sad. But all stories well told work their magic: they transport the listener or reader to an alternative world - sometimes just, just like ours, sometimes as different as we can imagine our Neverlands to be; but transport they do.

'The Cat, the Crow and the Banyan Tree' is about stories and their magic: the cat and the crow of the title do nothing but tell stories. The banyan tree under which they live is a splendid location for storytelling: massive, tangled, full of nooks and crannies, mysterious hollows and secret openings; thick with the plethora of creatures that inhabit it and amongst which it's hard indeed to distinguish between the real and the imaginary. I have no idea what guided the choice of the tree as the story is very transparent and general as far as its source culture goes and it doesn't have any noticeable ethnic flavours apart from a rather English final tea party, but the banyan is just perfect; thick with a primeval substance of myth and yet somehow (maybe its the archetypes working through collective unconscious) totally acceptable to a young reader.

The writing is wonderful. I have read it aloud at least 7 or 8 times in four weeks, maybe more, and the rhythm, the cadence of the prose is perfect. The words and phrases roll beautifully. See for yourself (but to really appreciate it you have to read it aloud):

"The cat and the crow lived under the banyan tree. All day long they told stories.

The cat was thin and quick and she told stories that were elegant and entertaining.

The crow was fat and handsome and he told stories that were fast and furious.

The banyan tree was tall and wide and light and dark and full of secrets."

That is how the scene is set. Two stories (both in character and both taking part partially or wholly inside the tree) told by each of the animals follow and the book concludes in the aforementioned tea-party, bit of a nod to Alice, but definitely without the looming menace of the Queen.

The text is not too descriptive and it's well complemented by Terry Milne's illustrations: subtle, full of delightful detail, in slightly washed-out colour, great dynamic scenes but with a strong dream quality to them. Imagine something between Beatrix Potter and Maurice Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' and you will have an idea.

My daughter was nearly four when we read this and she loved it. I was watching her face as she was listening to me reading the story one day and, despite knowing quite well what was happening and what was coming next, she was noticeably excited by the tale, her face lighting up in the crucial moments. We took it back to the library now but it's a book I would definitely contemplate buying.

Penelope Lively is an accomplished children's and adult author and a winner of many prizes including the Booker. The Cat, the Crow and the Banyan Tree is a remarkable children's book, a true proof that books for small children hugely benefit from high-quality writing.

It is a picture book of 25 pages and takes less than 10 minutes to read aloud. The vocabulary isn't particularly sophisticated and I would recommend it for bookish children from 2.5 to about 6 years old; with the ideal age being perhaps somewhere between 3 and 5 (it all depends on the child). I promise you will enjoy it too!

Buy The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree by Penelope Lively at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree by Penelope Lively at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree by Penelope Lively at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree by Penelope Lively at Amazon.com.


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