Gillian Mears is an Australian writer, recognised for her award-winning literary fiction such as Foal’s Bread, The Grass Sister, Collected Stories and The Mint Lawn. It is well known that she battles crippling multiple sclerosis.
She has now transferred her finely wrought writing to children’s books, beginning with The Cat with the Coloured Tail (Walker Books). This exquisite hardcover gift book is for children aged eight and older. It is a fable about love and healing and, although of great interest to cat lovers, it will appeal to a much wider readership, including adult readers.
The whimsical story, although with an ominous thread; as well as the memorable characters, are brilliantly brought to life by newcomer to children’s book illustration, Dinalie Dabarera dinalie.com. Despite the elegiac writing, this book would not be the exceptional piece of literature it is without these exquisite pencil-drawn illustrations. They seem to spring from an exemplary sensitivity and imagination. The combined writing and illustrations form a rare work.
Mr Hooper has a fanciful ice-cream van that resembles the full moon. He creates moon-cream ice creams with the intuitive help of The Cat with the Coloured Tail. This cat’s face is heart-shaped and, although his fur is usually silvery blue, his tail changes colour.
Together they love discovering heart shapes. Mr Hooper sings:
Hearts on footpaths, hearts in leaves.
Hearts in certain apple seeds.
Hearts in trees, in scabs on knees.
Heart-shaped whispers on the breeze.
They even find an ant’s nest in the shape of a heart and Mr Hooper leaves a tiny flag with his favourite colours of red and yellow to signpost the heart-shape to others.
They know which direction to take to sell their moon-creams because The Cat with the Coloured Tail’s tail points the way. But when the tail points upwards, they know that someone sad needs a free moon-cream. They find an old lady who needs a soft pink ice cream in the shape of an old-fashioned rose; an old man whose moon-cream looks like a lady beetle; a boy with a sea-loving dog whose moon-cream is so like waves lapping that it had even been a little salty; and bereaved twin sisters who receive fizzing firecracker moon-creams.
There is an ominous black heart of the world that The Cat with the Coloured Tail is following. This symbol casts a contrasting shadow over the positive itinerant healings, essential for dramatic tension and also for increasing the weightiness of the tale. The Cat with the Coloured Tail seems to sacrifice his own life to heal the heart of the world.
Australian poet, Geoff Page helped Gillian Mears with the cat’s songs, and Margaret Throsby interviewed the author on ABC Classic FM at