Gillian Mears and The Cat with the Coloured Tail

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.Foal's Bread

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

After reading this book you will feel like an ice cream, wishing it is a moon-cream, or quite possibly wanting to do something to show love to someone else.Mint Lawn

What Is It? Fables & Parables For All Readers

Today I thought I’d take a closer look at the differences between fables and parables and come up with some recommendations for readers of all ages who enjoy a little learning with their leisure.

A fable is: a short story that conveys a moral to the reader, typically with animals as characters.

A parable is: a short story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.

FablesThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

The first fable that comes to mind is the story of the hare and the tortoise who race each other. Everyone knows this one, the race seems unfair in the beginning because the hare is so fast, but he becomes smug knowing he’s going to win and takes a break to rest. Meanwhile, the slower tortoise continues to plod along and cruises past for the win. The moral of this fable is: slow and steady wins the race. If you want to teach your young ones this lesson, then check out The Tortoise and the Hare by Gerald Rose or Tortoise Vs Hare the Rematch by Preston Rutt and illustrated by Ben Redlich.

Most iconic of all is the collection of fables collated by the slave and storyteller Aesop in ancient Greece, of course it’s Aesop’s Fables. Check out this hardback edition of Aesop’s Fables illustrated by Ernest Griset, it contains more than 300 stories bound to please.Watership Down by Richard Adams

For YA and adult readers looking for a good fable to read, there’s: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi HwangCharlotte’s Web by E.B. WhiteWatership Down by Richard Adams and of course Animal Farm by George Orwell.

Parables
Recently I read The Pearl by John Steinbeck, which started me off thinking about parables and fables in the first place, and is about greed. Having said that, the first parable that comes to mind for me is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This book that has sold millions of copies all around the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it a few years ago.

Those looking for religious principles in their reading would do well to check out The Shack by William P. Young, it’s a real life-changing read. The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason is a collection of parables set in ancient Babylon based around financial wisdom and how to achieve wealth and financial independence.The Richest Man in Babylon by George-S.-Clason

A parable that’s on my TBR list is A Christmas Carol by none other than Charles Dickens. Even though I already know what the parable is, I still think it’d be nice to read it in the lead up to Christmas this year.

So, what’s your favourite fable or parable? Have any of them changed the way you think about the world? I’d love to know, so tell us in the comments below.

List of books with the word ‘boy’ in the title

I enjoyed writing the blog post Books with the word ‘Girl’ in the title so much, I thought I’d do one for books that have ‘boy’ in the title. At first glance, I thought this one might be easier, but let’s see how I go.The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The first book that comes to mind for me is The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. Now a very well-known motion picture film, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is definitely unforgettable, but did you know it is rumoured that author John Boyne wrote the entire first draft in two and a half days? Amazing!

As you might expect, there are a number of YA titles with ‘boy’ in the title, beginning with Boy – Tales of Childhood by none other than Roald Dahl. Published in 1984, Roald Dahl recounts his days as a child growing up in the public school system in England and the living conditions in the 1920s – 1930s.

Boy Roald DahlMany of us will remember reading Storm Boy by Australian author Colin Thiele at school and might even admit to crying at the end (I think I had something in my eye). It’s a story about a boy and his pelican and was part of the school curriculum when I was growing up.

Another Australian contribution to this list is Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Set in a mysterious museum, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a modern day fairytale about the power of friendship, courage and love and of course, never giving up.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is such a familiar story with a powerful message – we all know it – but when you look up the title in any directory you’ll see a swag of authors and can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. The edition I’ve selected for this collection is The Boy Who Cried Wolf with The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs illustrated by Val Biro, primarily because it’s marketed as Aesop’s Fables for Easy Readers. Perfect right?

For those who enjoy delving into non-fiction, there’s The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog And Other Stories From A Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook – What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing by Bruce Perry and Maia Azalavitz.About a Boy Nick Hornby

Getting back to adult fiction, there’s About A Boy by Nick Hornby, an entertaining read about ladies man Will Freeman (played by Hugh Grant in the 2002 adaptation) who picks up women by attending single parent groups. His life takes a turn though after he meets 12yo Marcus.

So, how many of these books have you read? What have I missed?

He Had Me At Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

Animal FarmThere were two books that I was required to read at school that stood out for me (and yes, goodie two shoes that I am I actually read them instead of cheating and watching the films instead).

The first (and I’m thinking both this one and the one that follows will be on many others’ top-two lists) was Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. The second was George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the genius fable that used a farmyard and its animals—most notably pigs—to illustrate complex concepts of politics, socialism, hypocrisy, and the absolute corruption of absolute power.

I’d never much understood how a fable could be so powerful—Aesop’s tales had interested me, but not in the same, axis-shifting comprehension-of-the-world way as this book. Nor did I have any clue who Orwell was. He might be a household name and literary great whose surname has been turned into an adjective (Orwellian) to describe a dystopian world, but to me as a schoolgirl he was just another author whose book was on the reading list.

Lack of this knowledge aside, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with him. He had me at ‘four legs good, two legs bad’, ‘two legs good, four legs bad’, ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’, and a few phrases in between.

1984I just heard that Animal Farm the play will be performed at the Queensland Performing Arts Complex in August. It inspired me to both book tickets and to brush up on my Animal Farm trivia. It also inspired me to investigate Orwell further.

He wrote, I realised, two of the most outstanding books I’ve ever read—the aforementioned Animal Farm and 1984—and yet I know very little about the man behind the words.

What I quickly realised was that not only had he penned two masterpieces in a lifetime (which is two more than most people do, and he not only did this, but did so in fewer words than many of his counterparts), he was absolutely prolific in his writing. And all this in less than 50 years of life all up. Sheesh.

It was through this internet and Wikipedia trivia trawling that I stumbled across Why I Write. Part of the Penguin Great Ideas series, which also includes the writing of Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, and Woolf, it comprises some of his essays.

Reading the book, I marvelled at Orwell’s extraordinary ability to excise key, confounding issues, and to frame them in a manner that’s at once accessible, logical, and that highlights their absurdity and/or horror. And he does so in ways that make Why I Writethem memorable. I realised is that Orwell had me at many terms and statements, not least:

  • such terms as ‘newspeak’, ‘thought police’, ‘prolefeed’, ‘doublethink’, and ‘big brother’ (the all-seeing state, not the TV show)
  • the statement that ‘Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’
  • the introductory sentence to an essay about war: ‘As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me’
  • and, this, an excerpt from one of his early poems:

I dreamed I dwelt in marble halls,

And woke to find it true;

I wasn’t born for an age like this;

Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?