Title: The Strange Invasion of Catfish BendThe STrange Invasion of Catfish Bend1
Author: Ben Lucien Burman
Illustrator: Alice Caddy
Pages: 153
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

From the ‘Catfish Bend’ series.

The Story.

News has come to the inhabitants of Catfish Bend that trouble is brewing around the nation. Instead of getting along peaceably, as do the creatures of Catfish Bend, other animals are resolving their differences by fighting and warring amongst themselves. Doc Raccoon, Judge Black the blacksnake, J.C. the fox, Brahma Bull, and a host of other citizens of Catfish Bend decide to march on a peaceful campaign around the nation, explaining to the other animals how they all get along, and trying to get the animals to sign a Peace Pact, promising to no longer fight with one another.

The beginning of their crusade goes well, but as their travels continue, the animals run across more and more difficulties. Can they continue to campaign for peace in the presence of hostility?

Discussion.

Reviewers compare the Catfish Bend series to the childhood classic The Wind in the Willows, and it indeed has the same whimsical style. But I would argue that Catfish Bend has perhaps an even more tongue-in-cheek style than WiW.

My enjoyment of the story began at the first mention of New Orleans and continued through references to Baton Rouge, Opelousas, and other deep-south towns that this Louisiana girl knows like old friends. It grew as I realized that The Strange Invasion of Catfish Bend wasn’t just a simple story about adventurous animals. It is a highly saucy social commentary. The Catfish Bend creatures set off determined that they can reform the world simply through their testimony. Along the way, they reap conversions. A few of them are genuine, but most of them last only so long as their novelty continues. At the first moment that an opportunity to fight reappears, it is pursued. By the end of the story, the Catfish Bend creatures are devastated to find that their crusade has failed – creatures everywhere are fighting again.

I found this to be such an resonant indictment of human behavior on both sides of the issue. First on the part of the crusaders – there can be such a naievete about reformers who believe that all that is needed for reform to occur is for people to be shown the error of their ways. Surely, once they see how horrid they are, they will only be too happy to change! Um, no. The second party [those in need of reform] are very much as the creatures appear in this story – they may accede to better practices for a time on the basis of its novelty, but pretty speeches are not enough. Unless real change has occurred, they will be right back to their old habits as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

The best part of the story, though came at the very end. The insects of the world have gathered together to make war against the animals and humans. They are tired of being tyrannized over and are determined to conquer their enemies! It is at this juncture that Doc Raccoon, champion of peace though he is, realizes that the only way to restore order to the world, the only way to keep the ants from being effectual, is to cause them to fight – amongst themselves. So the former crusader of peace sets about to foment the very squabbles he once sought to quell – which is unquestionably priceless.

The only part I disliked about this book came on the count of philosophy. Two of the members of the Catfish Bend group are white egrets who have the ability to “prophesy” about the future. Throughout the story, they accurately predict which new horrible things will happen to the travelers. Also, the Brahma Bull frog practices an advanced form of Yogi. As an older reader, I honestly found the “prophesies” and “yoga” to be quite funny, but parents may wish to be more careful, when giving the book to young readers.

A cat says she will throw herself under the wheels of a truck in her sadness, but the Catfish creatures convince her that life is worth living.

Conclusion. Very funny – I’ll be looking for more books from this series.

Review © 2014 Laura Verret

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