Book

Cate And The Garden Bandits

Author: Betsy Coffeen
Genre: Children 4-8
33 pages

Author Interview

August 23, 2023

This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission when you click on the links at no additional cost to you. As an affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases. You can read our full affiliate links disclosure here.

6
(6/10)

About Cate And The Garden Bandits

Cate And The Garden Bandits is a children’s book written by author Betsy Coffeen and illustrated by Ginger Seehafer. The editor Ruthann Meyer is also mentioned on the Amazon’s book page. The book tells of the adventure on which Cate the butterfly embarks when awoken from a daydream by a one-eyed bumblebee stealing the flower petals of her magic garden.

Solid lexicon and semantics

I got excited at first read. Cate and the garden bandits is very well-written in the sense that it uses more words than the average children’s book, it is definitely well-proofread and the semantics are impressive and sure to give children the correct and diverse vocabulary their need for self-expression deserves.

Cate And The Garden Bandits – Fun writing and stunning illustrations

The book is beautiful. The writing is fun, not just in its typography but in the style in which it describes the situations. The illustrations are vibrant and reminiscent of all that is exciting in bright illustrations in Japanese anime. In effect, Cate looks like a butterfly version of a pokemon, extremely cute and with the sort of plumpness that easily welcomes and shares a hug. This makes them captivating, a definite plus for a young mind.

Cate And The Garden Bandits’ Words to Learn

I love the idea of highlighting words to learn and to have them at the back. Something that would really help kids is if the words are also pointed out in a corresponding illustration on the Words To Learn page, just to better support the explanation. It would have definitely helped with the word pollinate as it uses equally difficult words to explain it (pistil, stamen).

Colour contrast and legibility in Cate And The Garden Bandits

The colours are indeed vibrant and inviting. However, some of the colour contrast is not as well-thought and makes some of the words, in particular and worse so, the “Words To Learn”. Foreground typography colours should have been chosen that contrast better with the varying background colours so as to make them easier to read. Some of the colour contrast like the colours of the letters in the sentence “Wait… STOP! THIEF!” are not easily legible. Worse yet is the word “pollinate” in red over the background of a red flower.

Lack of flow and proper character introduction and development

Cate And The Garden Bandits by Betsy Coffeen backWhile the first page and words got me excited, I quickly became puzzled, reading further. I couldn’t help wondering for quite a few pages: “But why?” What is it about and what is its point? Yes, the flowers are losing their petals but there is so much more decorum to the central issue that it gets drowned in the vastness of words. She is daydreaming, she is awoken, she has friends, she slips, there is a stranger with big eyes, he does not finish his sentences. The flow is not there.

The writing counts too much on the illustration to tell the tale

When Cate shouts “Thief”, there is nothing in the sentence before that corroborate this, only the illustration and a vague recollection of the title, Cate and the garden bandits. We would have loved to be introduced to and to have fallen for Cate and the garden before believing that a stranger is necessarily a bandit. “daydreaming” then “slipping” do not introduce Cate. A quick mention of her friends, their names and insect type do not introduce them or their dynamic which would have itself better served to introduce Cate. All this and we are virtually halway through the book. It seems that the illustration and the naming are expected to do the job.

And even then…

And even then, there is not enough of the book that illustrates, words or drawing wise, the magic of the garden. We are to believe the garden is magic because the author says so not because she describes that magic. In effect, it seems the only magic that is describe is the beauty of the flower petals after they have been plucked to decorate the queen’s chambers. The work Cate and her friends did is a parenthesis that she briefly thinks off at some point. 

Sense of location, position, movement and direction in Cate And The Garden Bandits

A minute ago, Cate saw her friends but now they have disappeared. We are unsure of where she is in positional relationship with her friends. We don’t know if, when she speaks, her friends or the bandits can hear her. We are not sure whether when she shouts, either can hear her. We don’t know if she is safe or not. We cannot empathise with her situation. There isn’t even an illustration that shows their position to the reader, out of sight of the protagonist.

The Uncertainty in Cate And The Garden Bandits

A sentence ago, Cate is “crying” “I found the garden bandits!” and the next, “She was about to shout out for help when…” More than wondering what is next, I am scratching my head as to whether she shout out for help or not. I am wondering where her friends are, how far she is from them, if they heard her, if she can see them… I have no real idea how big the garden is and where everyone is in relationship with each other. I don’t know if the tree is part of the garden and if it is, how neither herself or her friends ever saw it.

All is well that ends well… or is it?

So, the garden bandits are not thieves after all. Except they are. They took something without the owner’s permission. “The petals made wonderful decorations.” I am not sure the anthropomorphisation of these insect need to extend to deflowering gardens for decoration. That is a very human thing to do, not a bumblebee one at all.

The rude bumblebee now has a look of pure love and kindness. This makes me now wonder why he could not speak before. What was so urgent that it could not take two seconds to complete its sentence earlier?

Alternative flow in Cate And The Garden Bandits

Introducing Cate, her friends and the garden

Cate was looking after their garden with her friends. Each friend had a particular task: describe each task according to the animal / insect’s specificities or their individual personality.

Introducing the issue

One of them or more had noticed that lately, petals were missing from the garden. Each friend had a theory on what was happening. Introduce 4 theories that make sense from the perspective of each insect’s specificities or their individual personality. Another dimension missed here is time. Knowing how long the issue had been going on would clarify certain aspects of it.

Introducing the bandits

One day, when they were working harder to fix the garden, Cate stepped out to get some food, or anything that would make sense. She would normally do this later in the day but this was exceptional. OR she heard a noise and decided to investigate, to find out what it was.

The end

The end has beauty that needs to remain. But the fact remains that taking something without the owner’s permission is stealing. Forgiveness required acknowledgement of wrong doing. Something needs clarifying: maybe the bees did not know that the garden was Cate’s and her friends or it was too urgent a matter. Here, having known how long it was going on would have helped confirmed the urgency. Another way of approaching this is that Cate would have understood from a butterfly possibly knowing the role of bees in pollination. In which case, she would have been a better conduit for the final explanation and her “daydreaming” a better “foreshadowing” of the fact she should have known this but forgot. Oh yes, maybe having the queen speak would have made her look less like an extra.

Cate And The Garden Bandits – Conclusion

Beautiful illustrations but too much buzzing about the plot

This book is made up of beautiful, vibrant illustrations, at times reminiscent of a Japanese anime style. The author clearly has a fine plume and the young reader will benefit from a clear and diverse vocabulary, within an indicative context.

However, too much buzzing about the plot and the lack of flow and coherence in the story does the book a great disservice. Some unnecessary details add to the distraction, while insufficient character development and event setting leave the book telling and defining feelings rather than naturally arousing or demonstrating them. The colour contrast also plays an adverse role when it does not allow for legibility. At times, it seems the writing lets the illustration hold some of the fort rather than complementing it. The book leaves you asking questions it should have answered. Characters such as the friends and events like Cate slipping were irrelevant to the plot and unecessarily took invaluable space that was needed to clarify the plot, to introduce the main character and to tell the truth.

The responsibility to young readers

Any children’s book that is well-written deserves attention. Betsy Coffeen is clearly a great writer who also bothered to be proofread. The editor must have seen a flow I missed. The book states that the audience is 3-12. However, I find that young readers may struggle to link relevant elements and events as they happen in the story. They will benefit from the great way new words are introduced but could do with an illustrative explanation to complement it.

Verdict

Beautiful illustrations but storytelling that does not match the potential of its plume

This book has great potential. Had it strengthened its flow, been more legible, and trim its excess, it would have been rated much higher.