Shen Shixi (text), Shen Yuanyuan (illus.), When Mu Meets Min, Starfish Bay Publishing, June 2017, 40pp., $24.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781760360344
The old saying ‘to fight like cats and dogs’ finds life in this sweetly humorous tale, set in rural China. Contrasting with many children’s picture books, the narrator is an adult, a farmer, who is gifted a small white puppy named Min by his best friend, Cheng. When the farmhouse is invaded by rats, the farmer and his wife, Lian, decide to get a kitten, Mu, despite Cheng’s warnings that cats and dogs cannot be friends.
While they are young, Mu and Min get along well – they play hide and seek and snuggle up together each afternoon. However as they grow, their differences become more apparent, and they progress from cranky encounters to constantly fighting. The house has become a battleground, and just as the farmer and his wife are contemplating giving one of the pets away, an accident occurs, that changes everything. Mu is trapped in a water-tank, and Min, in a demonstration of loyalty and bravery, races two miles to seek help. From then on, Min and Mu learn to get along – not quite the friends they once were, but with an attitude of ‘live and let live’ that brings peace once again to the farmhouse.
Author Shen Shixi is a well known children’s writer in his homeland, where his youth spent in rural China has informed many of his stories about animals. This translation offers insight into a way of life than many Australian children would not be used to – and would provide rich scope for discussion beyond the themes of friendship and ‘getting along’. The illustrations, by Shen Yuanyuan are detailed and offbeat, with lots of action happening on every page.
This would be a lovely read-aloud picture book, with a story that offers a different cultural perspective to a universal theme. Suitable for children aged 5-8.
Reviewed by Kay Oddone