August 4, 2016


Friend or Foe? by John Sobol and Dasha Tolstikova is a pretty unique book in a lot of ways. The text tells the story of a mouse who gazes up every night at the palace tower and to watch the white cat who lives there. He wonders if the cat is his friend or his foe, and eventually he decides to get himself an answer by crawling into the palace and up to the tower to meet the unsuspecting cat.

The text isn't traditional by any means--it serves more as an existential exploration of space and connectedness. The mouse and the cat live in a binary world: the cat lives up high and the mouse lives down low; the mouse is black and the cat is white; the cat can only be a friend or a foe. The one thing they have in common, it seems, is each other. Tolstikova frames her illustrations of the two symmetrically to emphasize togetherness in their apartness: we either see a spread with the animals on opposite ends, or each animal is encircled on its own side of the spread. We get to see them together in their loneliness, sharing a moment of connection.

Given the aforementioned dichotomy, it's a given that the moment the two animals meet is very emotionally charged. Not only do they occupy the same space for the first time--no frames or buildings between them--they're finally on the same page. The most interesting part, though, is that the mouse risks his life to get an objective answer from the cat and ends rocks the very foundation of the binary world he lives in. There's no gray area for the two, so the moment they occupy the same space, their world shifts. It's definitely a fascinating look at how we view the world, and the message will stick with you.

Friend or Foe? publishes October 1 in Canada and October 11 in the US from Groundwood Books