Dream-Of-Jade: The Emperor’s Cat

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLloyd Alexander children's fantasy novel reviews Dream-of-Jade: The Emperor's CatDream-Of-Jade: The Emperor’s Cat by Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander’s love and respect for felines is obvious — one need only look at the number of books he has written about them, such as Time Cat, The Town Cats and Other Tales and The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man. And who could forget the giant cat Llyan from The Chronicles of Prydain?

Dream-of-Jade: the Emperor’s Cat continues in the tradition of having a cat protagonist who is clever and cunning, witty and wise, and who uses her considerable intelligence to help out the hapless human-folk around her. Named for her bright green eyes, Dream-of-Jade is an imperial cat that wanders the halls of the Emperor Kwan-Yu’s palace. Deciding to make the acquaintance of the exalted Emperor, Jade makes herself comfortable on his throne and awaits his coming (embodying the saying that a cat can look at a king… and sit on his throne). She’s surprised to find that he’s hardly an impressive specimen of a man (being short, elderly and fragile), but despite the protestations of his councilors, she strikes up a friendship with him.

What follows is a series of five stories in which Jade shares her cat-like wisdom to the befuddled, child-like emperor and making the foolish, simpering mandarins that surround him look foolish. She makes a particular enemy of the Chief Minister Yin-Chuan, whose bluster and fustiness is taken down a peg or two by Jade’s calm rationalization, sense of fun and ability to awaken the Emperor’s eyes to the possibilities around him. As always, Alexander‘s trademark humour, common sense and words of wisdom are pronounced throughout the story, and yet are never too overbearing. He is one of the few children’s authors to seamlessly meld such life-lessons into a text without one feeling as though they’ve been hit over the head with a moral-of-the-story.

In its Oriental setting, it bears a striking similarity to The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, particularly in its gentle mockery of the pompous titles, such as the Chamber of Enlightened Edicts, the Glittering Repository of Highly Valuable Objects and the Department of Lighthearted But Not-Too-Frivolous Diversions. In fact, The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen would be a good companion book to this shorter work.

D. Brent Burkett provides delicate, dreamlike illustrations, which capture the liveliness of humans and the beauty of Dream-of-Jade in muted pastel shades. The one in which the Emperor plays leapfrog with the children is guaranteed to make you smile. Even better is his use of light and shadow that fills the regal, tranquil palace and its gardens, adding a sense of homeliness to the exotic setting. It is worth saying however, that the illustrations take up less space than the text — this story is not a “picture book” that you could sit down and read to a four year old. It’s far too long for that, and there are several double pages that consist solely of text.

Cats may not be “man’s best friend,” and even cat-lovers will admit that there is an aloofness and pride to them (as well as that look they give you that makes it very clear that they consider you their servant). But Lloyd Alexander understands the mystery and beauty of cats, avoiding the stereotype of “the mean cat” and tapping into their more appealing essence of wise tricksters. Dedicating this book to “my dear cats who told me these tales,” this is another gem to add to what should be a growing stack of Lloyd Alexander books.

Dream-Of-Jade: The Emperor’s Cat — (2005) Ages 9-12. Publisher: No ordinary man is permitted to see the great Kwan-Yu, emperor of China but this doesn’t stop the beautiful, green-eyed Dream-of-Jade, since she is not an ordinary man, but a rather unusual cat. When Dream-of-Jade decides she wants to see his highness, she simply slips into the empty throne room and sits upon the imperial throne. When Kwan-Yu arrives, she does not give up her seat, but does point out the dangerous state of the emperor’s ceiling. Thus begins the great friendship between an Emperor and a little white cat, who not only saves the emperor’s life at their first meeting, but knows how to cure his ailments, make him laugh, and entertain him, and whose greatest wish is to make Kwan-Yu the best emperor everto rule China. Lloyd Alexander has written this little masterpiece filled with details from ancient Chinese court life. With his sharp wit, tongue-in-cheek humor, and good-natured satire, he exposes the rigidity of ancient imperial customs and traditions. Dream-of-Jade’s no-nonsense solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems delight children and adults alike, making this tale an unforgettable reading adventure for the entire family.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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