Not a classic in the canon of illustrated kid’s fiction

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The art of children’s fiction lies in its emotional resonance and imaginative scope. Quite simply, a book without either of these factors is simply an illustrated waste of time. “The Unconventional Life of Haee” is the story of a cat who leaves a comfortable home in search of adventure. He wanders into a back alley where other cats hunt insects, vermin, and chew on the leftovers from a poorly-run pizza shop. An outcast cat named Whie temporarily manages to convince the other cats to give up their hunting in favor of a vegetarian, all-pizza diet, thus creating a utopia known as “Green Alley.” Eventually, a huge, somewhat thuggish interloper cat named Samzie invades the alley and refuses to abide by the rules. The pizza shop closes, the cats scatter, and Haee, the titular cat and hero of our story, moves on.

In terms of emotional resonance, “The Unconventional Life of Haee” is immediately engaging to the reader. The cats humorously impersonate feelings of wanderlust, unconventionality, and stubbornness. The imaginative quality of the story is less stellar, in part because many of the accompanying illustrations are repeated. Whether this repetition occurs in order to save the effort of coming up with a new image or as part of a weak stab at humor is unclear. However, when the cats interact with one another, the book is funny, if only because the interactions hint at the complexity of real human societies.

While “The Unconventional Life of Haee” is bold in its attempt to tackle serious issues of conservation, group dynamics and the importance of hygiene in the work place, it is not a classic in the canon of illustrated kid’s fiction. However, it does provide a welcome chuckle, even to the most hardened reader.

Reviewed by Julia Lai for IndieReader.

A bittersweet book review on “Haee The cat with a crooked tail”

Book review from ilovebooks.com

What does it mean to be “middling”? The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as being of “middle, medium, or moderate size, degree, or quality”. In other words, average. In this charming illustrated book for children and adults, local author R.S. Vern explores the middling life through the eyes of Haee, a cat which is pretty ordinary save for its unusually long and crooked tail.

The first installment in a planned trilogy, the story sees Haee leaving his comfy home to explore the world. After losing his way, he is adopted by Tom Stuck and Jane Fruss, a very ordinary sort of couple. Haee gets used to leading a routine life with his new owners, but eventually gets bored and heads for the streets, where he befriends the alley cats, including Whie, a cat with an unnaturally big nose.

Bittersweet and seemingly simple, this story embodies the ambivalence the author feels about an average, middle-class existence – possibly mundane, yes, but reassuring in its certainties and not without its own joys.

So, on one hand, you have Tom and Jane, a middling couple who always “wake up early for work, go for evening jogs and sleep early at night”. They do have secret dreams: Organic food-loving Tom fantasises about moving away from the city, while Jane wishes she could fly away and see the world. However, they continue going about their routine lives, never acting on these inner desires.

On the other hand, there are also moments in the book where the author hints at the possibility that the things which prevent us from making major life changes may actually be much less frightening than we think.

Early in the story, for example, Haee gets lost after he enters a black hole he comes upon after leaving home. “Alone and terribly frightened”, he regrets his earlier curiosity and swears never to “act so foolishly and recklessly again”.  At this moment, he is petrified when he sees “a pair of huge claws coming at him” in the darkness, but the claws turn out to be the (skinny) hands of Tom Stuck, who rescues Haee from the black hole.

By making it apparent to the reader that the things which frightened Haee so greatly are actually pretty harmless, Vern slips in an important point: Perhaps it isn’t that scary or difficult to create a life less ordinary.

Haee: The Cat with a Crooked Tail, Wednesday, August 08, 2012
By Lynette Koh, Senior Writer, Mediacorp Pte Ltd http://www.ilovebooks.com