BOOK: "The Rabbi's Cat," by Joann Sfar (Pantheon Books, $21.95)
TARGET AUDIENCE: Readers who want to travel in several dimensions.
The rabbi's cat will never be mistaken for Hello Kitty. Scrawny, disrespectful and profane, he gains the ability to speak to humans after eating the family parrot. He then challenges the rabbi on matters of faith, even showing up the rabbi's own rabbi. But he wants to learn the Jewish teachings and demands a bar mitzvah so that he can stay near the rabbi's daughter. His jealous devotion to the comely Zlabya ("her name sounds like a honey-drenched pastry") borders on obsession.
Having won prizes for his children's books, Sfar gives us a graphic novel -- definitely not for impressionable children -- set in the Algeria and Paris of the 1930s. It is rich in historic and cultural detail and filled with great stories. The bold Malka, for example, bravely rescues a woman being attacked by a lion while she is lathered up in the bath. Little does she know that the lion is his friend; they have set this up in advance. It figures that the cat would appreciate this story.
-- Jerry V. Haines