old robert

Old Robert and the Sea-Silly Cats by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Jan Jutte

Old Robert sailed his ship at sea during the day and docked it at night because it was so dark.  At night, he prepared his dinner of toast in buttered milk and ran through his list of things that were all in their proper place, including clean socks, a clock, one dish and one spoon, and the moon.  He was all alone until one night when a dancing cat asked to come aboard.  Old Robert hesitated because there wasn’t much room aboard, but in the end he agreed.  So he made dinner of toast in buttered milk for both of them and when he went to bed, he noticed the moon was bigger.  Now his list included the cat in its hammock as he went to sleep.  On subsequent days, another two talking cats joined him on board, for dinner, and on his list.  And the moon got bigger still.  Finally, a cat that didn’t talk at all arrived and Old Robert let it on board too.  There was no room for a hammock, for Old Robert let it sleep on his chest.  Finally, the moon was full and Old Robert sailed off into the moonlit night with all of the cats. 

I expected quite a different book when I saw the cover.  I thought it was going to be silly, zany, and rather wild.  Instead, this book has a beautiful quietness to it, a thoughtfulness, and makes for a perfect bedtime read.  Joosse incorporates repetition so well here that it becomes a lullaby.  His listing of his belongings doesn’t change much, except for the size of the moon and the number of cats.  It speaks to the simplicity of his life, but also to how lonely he is.  This is shown rather than told, giving the book a lovely little ache that heads right for the heart.

Jutte’s illustrations too have a mix of silly and quiet.  They have a vintage feel, of old comic books that will make readers feel right at home.  They have great color with explosions of pinks, blues and yellows that pop and glow. 

A great read aloud, this would make a great bedtime pick but it is also a good one to turn into reader’s theater for children.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel Books