Levin the Cat
Levin the Cat
Tao Jiu, illus. Yang Shanshan, transl. Helen Wang. London: New Classic Press, pb, 978 1 9125 5389 1, 2021, £8.99, 32pp.
Fiction, picture book, 4-7 years
Levin is a playful and mischievous cat living happily with his owner in an apartment block. But Levin’s world is about to change.
The Coronavirus pandemic has just started, and Levin’s loving owner Jing, a nurse, must stay away from home to care for the sick. As the book progresses, we witness Levin’s unfolding emotional journey, told through spare narrative, visual clues and evocative illustrations. At first, Levin is untroubled by being alone. It is fun doing as he pleases, and Jing’s friend brings in food. But as time goes on, loneliness and anxiety begin to surface.
Moments of self-declared fun are juxtaposed with swirling dotted lines conveying Levin’s underlying agitation and bewilderment. Images of Levin looking out of the window and wandering alone at night to look at his old apartment block convey his deep sense of longing for his owner and old life. Things become even more uncertain for Levin when he must go and live temporarily with Mr Zhao’s household. But despite being uncomfortable, it brings positive changes in Levin too; he grows in understanding of the sacrifice people close to him are making, especially those caring for others. And as he begins to join in with helping, Levin grows determined to play his part, leaving behind his carefree approach to pleasing himself. A touching image of Levin reunited with Jing after two months conveys the deep bond between the human and the cat and their thankfulness for one another. It also hints that both have been shaped and changed by what has happened.
This reassuring, anthropomorphic picture book sensitively invites children to identify with Levin and offers a way of processing some of the perplexing events and unsettling emotions they may have experienced during the Coronovirus pandemic. It would be especially pertinent for children whose families have been involved in frontline services.
Review by Anne Walker