[The Cat Who Went to Heaven]: A Review

Happy Monday and Happy September, y’all!

Today I am sharing my review of The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth  Coatsworth. It won the 1931 Newbery Medal. I read this book in only about 30 minutes after my mom let me borrow her library copy. Thanks for keeping me reading the quick Newbery winners, mom!

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It’s a short, simple little story that will find it’s way into your heart. It has some beautiful themes woven into that simple story about the power of friendship, of forgiveness, and of redemption. A simple story, yes, but also a powerful one!

Initial Thoughts:

  • This is different than the other early Newbery winners that I’ve read. First because it’s so short and second because it’s so easy to get into. I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I got into this story. Usually I struggle through the first bit of the early winners.
  • The drawings are lovely throughout the book! And the little poems! Books that use different types of storytelling like that are so fun to read. Those elements also help the book read even faster.


According to Goodreads, “In ancient Japan, a struggling artist is angered when his housekeeper brings home a tiny white cat he can barely afford to feed. But when the village’s head priest commissions a painting of the Buddha for a healthy sum, the artist softens toward the animal he believes has brought him luck.

According to legend, the proud and haughty cat was denied the Buddha’s blessing for refusing to accept his teachings and pay him homage. So when the artist, moved by compassion for his pet, includes the cat in his painting, the priest rejects the work and decrees that it must be destroyed. It seems the artist’s life is ruined as well—until he is rewarded for his act of love by a Buddhist miracle.

This novel’s greatest strength is the storytelling; it is fantastic! The simple story of a poor artist who takes in a cat who changes his fortune is told beautifully. There aren’t a lot of twists and turns. It all takes place inside the artist’s humble home. But it is so endearing! I think this would be a great book to read aloud with kids. It’s a simple, lovely story.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my experience reading this book is how much I liked the cat. I don’t really like cats nor do I want to have a pet cat. I’m not an animal person in general. In this story. the artist names the cat Good Fortune which is beautifully paradoxical. In fact, Good Fortune was actually an endearing feline. Who could not like that cat who seems almost human? I wanted her to be painted into the painting from the moment the artist began.

The most interesting part in this novel is all the education about Buddha and ancient Japanese culture. I learned a lot about Buddha and his stories/myths/religion. I didn’t know he was a prince that chose to leave his riches behind. I didn’t know how he died or how he lived his life. Buddha’s life and influence was all simply expressed and that made it easy to follow and understand. I was surprised to learn about how the cat was excluded from heaven because it didn’t accept Buddha. Lots of interesting anecdotes!

This is a lovely little book. The beautiful messages of forgiveness, love, and finding happiness were really powerful. The ending just breaks your heart. I would like to own this one.

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What are some of your favorite early Newbery winners?
Are you a cat person? Dog person? Neither?


I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.

2 thoughts on “[The Cat Who Went to Heaven]: A Review

  1. Pingback: September Wrap Up and October TBR – greenish bookshelf

  2. Pingback: August Wrap-Up and September TBR – greenish bookshelf

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