March 07, 2012

Cross Katie Kross

by Donna Morrissey
Illustrated by Bridgette Morrissey
Penguin Canada
32 pp.
Ages 4+

Katie Kross is the mean woman that every child on any street knows to avoid.  She's always cross and unhappy. Often what makes someone mean is a mystery, except for Katie Kross.  She doesn't "like most anything" except Love Valley: a wondrous place from her dreams with soft grass, sweet air, and kindly animals, and where Katie is very happy.

As with most of us, Katie Kross is determined to recapture that happiness by finding Love Valley.  But the road to Love Valley is not clear.  Katie walks for days and days, only to find herself at the crossroads where a rabbit points her along the "obvious" road.  But, after a long trek, she reaches a dead end.  Cross and achy, Katie attempts to sleep but is kept awake by an irritatingly loud brook.  Jumpins! Nothing seems to be going right for Katie.

Back to the crossroads, Katie returns and chooses a different road, as advised by a preening fox.  Unfortunately, her travels end without finding Love Valley again.  Finally, Katie travels the only crossroad remaining and ventures into dark woods with lovely fountains of sweet pink juice from which Katie drinks and drinks and drinks.  Katie does find Love Valley but the reader will need to enjoy Cross Katie Kross to find its location.

Donna Morrissey, author of award-winning adult fiction including Downhill Chance (Penguin Canada, 2002) and Sylvanus Now (Penguin Canada, 2005), joins her daughter, artist Bridgette Morrissey, in their first picture book collaboration.  Children will recognize quite quickly what makes Katie Kross so mean and that her reaction to disappointment feeds her exasperation.  But it's the great teachable moment that Cross Katie Kross offers, about being "at the crossroads" and the strife most of us perceive when at this point, that will stoke important discussions.

Bridgette Morrissey's whimsical illustrations add the magic to Katie's home and her travels in search of Love Valley.  I needed to know how Bridgette Morrissey (see her website) creates the softness and touchability (I know it's not a word but tactile sensation sounds insensate) to the trees, animals, cakes - everything.  An email query to Bridgette Morrissey revealed her technique:
Everyone thinks the illustrations are colored pencil but they are indeed acrylic on paper.  I tend to paint very thin so the grain of the paper shows through, giving it that slightly textured look.
 (Morrissey, Bridgette. "Re: type of illustration." Email message, March 7, 2012.)

Children may not pick up on the "grass is always greener" allegory but they will pick up on the incongruity of Katie Kross' meanness and the softness of the illustrations and recognize that things are not always as we see them.

Below, Donna Morrissey and Bridgette Morrissey discuss their collaboration at a Cross Katie Kross book signing event at The Inside Story bookshop in Greenwood, Nova Scotia. The video was created by Edward Wedler.
Uploaded by on Feb 28, 2012 on YouTube.

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