Written by Bernard Villiot
Illustrated by Antoine Guilloppé
32 Pages Age 4—99 (4—8)
Genre: Children’s Picture Book, Fiction
Themes: Acceptance, Tolerance, Black Cats
Mephisto the black cat lives his life apart from other cats. Shunned by the townspeople for being a harbinger of bad luck, he never gets to sit inside by the fireplace c as the tomcats do. Instead, he dodges constant insults and abuse. At last, he decides to leave behind the world of humans for a peaceful life in the country.
But once winter comes, he knows he must seek the warmth of the city again, despite its cruel inhabitants. When he returns to find the town overrun with mice, will the townspeople want him, after all? Regardless, nothing is as important to Mephisto as his freedom.
This moving and poetic story, stunningly illustrated with laser-cut paper, makes for a thought-provoking parable about the nature of intolerance. (from jacket flap)
There was a time when I only went out at night,
once parents put their little ones to bed.
I was avoided to ward off bad luck.
I was considered a jinx, unlucky,
and who knows what else.
Nobody wanted to cross my path
because it was said that the devil
hid under my fur.
I was a cursed cat,
a cursed black cat,
Black as night,
black as soot,
black as trouble.
And so, I was saddled with a gloomy name:
Why I like this book
Mephisto didn’t like the name he was given and no one would. The word Mephisto defined includes, “crafty, powerful, sardonic, devil.” Definitely, a gloomy name but perfect for a black cat people thought of as trouble, a devil cat, an unlucky cat that people in town considered cursed and worthless, one to be avoided.
Mephisto didn’t have a master or a home. He wandered the streets and roofs of the town, mostly at night. No one fed him, so he captured rats and mice when he could and, only occasionally, stole food. Although he was free, without a master, Mephisto thought it no use to be free if no one wanted you. So he ran away from the city, not that anyone noticed—at least not right away.
Mephisto seems to be a smart cat, just unwanted because of the color of his fur. He puts up with more than being simply ignored. People are cruel in both words and deeds. They do not realize how important he is to the town, nor does Mephisto. Having taken enough from people, he runs away, out of the city and into the country where he Mary eventually finds the idyllic life, he always wanted. But when winter arrives, it is too cold and Mephisto longs for the warm roofs of the city.
The entire picture book is black and white. The spreads are laser-cut, but if you have ever seen the laser-cut images in Mary Poppins Up Up and Away you’ve seen some amazing spreads. At first glance, the images both look laser-cut, and they are, but Mary Poppins Up Up and Away takes it further by actually using the laser-cut spreads in the book. Each page has delicate images cut by a laser. Mephisto has the same, but it took an image of the laser-cut art and then used those images in the finished book. Readers do not get to see or feel the intricate cuts made by the artist. So while the illustrations are wonderful, the tactile experience I expect from laser-cut images is missing.
Mephisto relates his life in free poetry, which is perfect for what he has to say. Rhyming might give his story a fun tone for a story that is anything but fun. Do not mistake “not fun” with boring or uninteresting. Mephisto is an interesting character and he tells his story with perfect pitch.
Mephisto’s story is one of nonacceptance, based solely on a physical trait, not anything he has actually done to the townspeople. As the feline population goes in this town, Mephisto is discriminated. Once the town realizes his value, to them, he is welcome and wanted. He goes from unacceptable because of his black fur to acceptable because of his ability to rid the town of rats and mice. I would have liked to have seen the town accept Mephisto because they have learned that his black fur does not automatically mean Mephisto, or any other black cat, is crafty, devilish, unlucky for others who cross his path, and all the other misconceptions the people probably still hold.
What I would like aside, Mephisto is a good story, told from the cat’s perspective. Mephisto accurately describes how it feels to be left out of normal activities, whether cat or child. Children will like the rugged cat. Some will unfortunately be able to relate to Mephisto’s feelings of being unloved, unwanted, and unacceptable. Not because he or the child are those things, but because others make them feel this way.
Mephisto has been relating how the townspeople treat him and the myths they believe about him, such as being worthless, a fighter and a thief, always up to no good. He then states what he thinks would make him a better cat, which is something everyone needs, especially kids.
“A little bit of love would have gone a long way in taming me.”
There is no back matter, although a Glossary would be helpful, though unusual in this type of story. At least 30 words fall into the difficult level for picture book age kids of 4—8. One word stumped me, making me grab a dictionary. I like books that stretch the vocabularies of its readers and Mephisto certainly does just that.
Illustrations: Rendered in precise laser-cuts.
Available at Amazon
MEPHISTO. Text Copyright © 2019 by Bernard Villiot. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Antoine Guilloppé. Published by minedition / Michael Neugebauer Publishing, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Copyright © 2019 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
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