Its Name Was Joy: Callie Cat, Ice Skater by Eileen Spinelli

Title: Callie Cat, Ice Skater
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Illustrator: Anne Kennedy
Age/Genre: Children’s Picture Book

*This review was originally posted, with minor differences, at my author’s blog.

One of the great things about books is that they are so much more than “just” a story. They can be portals to another world, lessons for life, a chance to work through difficult emotions, and a chance to build memories. All of these things can be as important in the reviewing of a book as the words written and the techniques used.

Several months ago, I read the picture book “Callie Cat, Ice Skater” by Eileen Spinelli to my children. I remembered buying it two or three years ago, but I don’t know where my daughter happened to find it in their big pile of books for this particular night. She chose it because it features a cat (her favorite animal) wearing purple (one of her favorite colors) and ice skating (something Bria is quite enamored of, almost as much as she is ballet). Turns out it is a pretty nice book. It even made me choke up and get a little teary.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking and no, I do not tear up every time I read my kids a book, despite what my Girl Who Loved Wild Horses post on my author’s blog would seem to indicate. But I did that night, and for good reason: this book has an excellent message and a superb ending! Even better, it resonated with me on a level that I have only recently discovered. And all that in just 28 pages.

What was the message, you ask? Well, in “Callie Cat, Ice Skater”, Callie is a cat who loves ice skating. She skates every night during the week and all day long on the weekend. And “Whenever Callie skated, she felt a melting sweetness” that she cannot name. Callie’s friends don’t understand why Callie is always ice skating. They are always trying to get her to do other things, until one day, they notice there is a competition with many great prizes for the winner. They spend the next few weeks “helping” Callie get ready for the contest. When the competition rolls around, they all head into town, Callie’s parents telling her to do her best, while Callie’s friend are telling her to win.

The excellent message comes from the fact that it doesn’t matter whether Callie wins or not: she does her best, her parents say they are proud of her for doing her best, and Callie goes home and continues to enjoy skating. The superb ending comes from Callie learning what the melting sweetness is: “Its name was joy.” It is such a sweet book, and I love that it shows a girl chasing a dream–through hard work and dedication–and that winning isn’t what makes her enjoy her craft.

I am sure you are sitting there reading this and thinking “Wow. Cute. But how did it possibly resonated with a grown woman who was soon to be graduating with an MFA?” Good question! The answer is this:

First, there is some beautiful writing: “…when the sun was bright and the wind sang through the tall stalks of thistle” and “her sun-dazzled blades crisping across the ice” are two of my favorites. Of course, there are also some silly phrases (such as “She’d be a banana not to” [want to win]) for the kids to enjoy, but over all, it was beautiful to read aloud. Eileen Spinelli cares about her craft and pours over every word. That is a level of craftsmanship I have been working hard to achieve and learn to analyze and critique during the past two years. I could connect with the effort that Spinelli obviously put into the creation of this book.

Second, and most importantly (as far as my getting teary-eyed goes), when Callie starts skating the morning after the competition: “She knew that the melting sweetness came from doing what she loved…doing…was the best prize of all…”

Wow. What a great message to give to kids. What a great message to give to adults. A message I have had trouble holding on to in the middle of all the wonderful and awful things that I’ve dealt with in the past several years. I actually stopped doing, stopped writing, at one point. And I lost my prize. A prize I was searching for when I applied to the Stonecoast Creative Writing program. A prize that, every time I sit down to read, review, or write, I hope to teach my children to reach for.

A prize with a name: joy.

Goodreads Rating: 3.98 Stars (85 Ratings)
Amazon Rating: 5 Stars (15 Ratings)
My Rating: 5 Stars

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