Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Cat on the island by Gary Crew illustrated by Gillian Warden

"The island rose out of the ocean like a blue-green jewel. Covered in forest, it was.  And there were all sorts of birds - 
I never saw so many birds."

This will seem odd but I have been searching for a Public Library.  I need one with up to date stock and a good selection of old favourites especially picture books.  After trying three in my area I have found one.  While I was browsing I spied this book and I recognised the title and author.  I had seen it mentioned on a book list as a text to support the study of Geography in our Primary curriculum.

I had thought this book was out of print but I now discover there is a paperback edition.  This is very significant book and it should be part of every school library collection.

The setting for this book is Stephens Island New Zealand.  Prior to 1894 this tiny island of just 150 hectares was home to many bird species especially the Traversia lyalli - the only flightless wren in the world.  By 1896 it was extinct.  Here is a painting by John Keulemans on Wikipedia.

Building the lighthouse meant cutting down the trees.  The arrival of the builders and lighthouse keeper with his family meant the arrival of a cat.

"Yes, my mother bought a cat to the island. ... Tibbles, the cat's name was. Had kittens as soon as we landed. And once they were off her milk, they shot through. Had plenty of birds to eat, they did. ... And 'cause the wrens couldn't fly, they were easy targets."

The illustrations in this book are so important.  They have the softness of water colour but show the violence of the cats.  Gillian Warden has included all of the pages on her web site.

Related texts include :

  • The Tin forest by Helen Ward
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
  • Window by Jeannie Baker
  • Joseph's Yard by Charles Keeping

Here is a set of excellent teaching notes and this title (as I mentioned) is recommended as a support text for the NSW Geography syllabus.  We have an extensive collection of book by Gary Crew in our school library but somehow we missed this important book.

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