The Katurran Odyssey by David Michael Wieger, illustrated by Terryl Whitlatch

This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series 2022 Reads

As with other posts in this series, these #booksread2022 posts go anywhere from a few weeks to a month after I’ve read them. I read this particular book last week, though! 


This year, I’ve decided it’s time to start reading longer stories to my son. I’ve been reading to him since before he could speak, but until now, it’s been shorter books. He’s gotten into some longer things on his own, despite being unble to read for himself as yet—the Dog Man comics are a big hit, as are Captain Underpants, but until now I hadn’t read anything longer to him. 

I started with The Katurran Odyssey, which… was long. It took us several weeks, going ten to twenty pages at a time and missing the occasional day. Many of those pages are heavily—and beautifully—illustrated, of course, but it’s still a pretty long text to read aloud, especially to a young kid whose vocabulary necessitated frequent pauses to check whether he understood this or that passage. (And, to be honest, this is not a book written for kids of that age, for reasons I’ll get into below.)

That said, it was a great place to start. I’m a sucker for animal adventure stories like this one. It tells the story of a lemur named Katook who is cast out from his famine-stricken village after he stumbles onto a secret involving corruption on the part of his lemur village’s high priest. He travels across his world, encountering unusual individuals and then a series of curious animal civilizations in sequence. Each culture has its own weirdness and obsession and problems, and each culture is missing something important. I think a fair bit of it went over my son’s head, but even so, we both found it a fascinating read. 

The story is fun, scary, exciting, and sometimes even moving, but of course the illustrations are also a big part of the appeal of this book:

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Those images are actually from the newer Design Studio Press edition, which I suspect as a bit better laid-out than the older edition we read: the layout was fine and the art just as gorgeous, but the text was a bit dark on some pages in the older version. (It looks like they avoided that problem in the new version by switching to white text on darker pages, and some of the art seems to have been touched up or expanded a bit.) Still, the images above should give you an idea of how captivating the illustrations are. The artist, Terryl Whitlatch, has had a long career as a creature designer and concept artist for Lucasfilm: this is her main book, though she’s published some books about creature design more recently (also published by Design Studio Press). When I got this for my son, I also got Animals Real and Imagined for my wife, as she’s a fan of animal illustrations, and she really liked that book, too.  

The story was… maybe a little intense for my son, in parts. (There were a lot frightening threats tossed around, most of them directed at Katook, who is written as an adolescent.) There’s some really harsh stuff that happens in a couple of parts of the story, and some animals who are out of their minds, depressed, or cruel. Still, the book has plenty of funny moments, and plenty of exciting surprises, some wild joy, and a few moving passages. It’s also wonderful to see a quagga featured as a major character; in some small way, it gives those lost creatures a new life. 1 There is a religious theme to it, albeit much more of an animal-nature spirit animist type. But the tale is well told, and kept us fascinated even despite how long it took us to get through the book. More than once, after reading our allotted number of chapters for the day, my son urged me to continue, and I was glad of it. 

Here’s a little bonus: a pair of musicians named Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning created a music album that is a kind of “soundtrack” for the book. It actually does evoke the mood of the book in some ways! The album is available to listen through, and/or to buy, over on Bandcamp.  

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