Little Cat's Luck by Marion Dane Bauer, illustated by Jennifer A. Bell, 224pp, RL 3
Little Cat's Luck by Marion Dane Bauer, with marvelous illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell, is a gem of a book, and not just because it's a verse novel. I have long loved the genre of the verse novel, both for the precise beauty of the language and the ability to tell a complex story in a compact format. Recently, I have also discovered that verse novels are an ideal format for the students at the school where I am the librarian, the majority of whom are English language learners who are reading below grade level. Verse novels allow them to access a longer, more challenging book that looks less intimidating because there are fewer words on the page. With Little Cat's Luck, readers are in for an exciting, suspenseful emotional story about cooperation, kindness and learning to accept each other.
Patches is a little calico cat with a happy, cozy life, yet, she is searching for a "special place to be her very own." A loose screen and a falling leaf lead to an outside adventure and a continued search for that special place. Patches's searching leads her to the corner lot where Gus, the meanest dog in town lives. He runs the perimeter of his yard, barking at every car and person passing by.
Gus, like all dogs, like all people (which is one of the clever things I love about Little Cat's Luck, the qualities of the animal characters are easily transferrable to humans, making for great discussions) was not born mean. He was a big grey dog, "the color of the ashes / left behind in your fireplace / after the cheerful fire / has grown cold," and his fur was wiry and "not the least bit soft / to the touch." He was also not as responsive to discipline as he could have been. But, worst of all, Gus smelled. His boy had tried to bathe him more than once, but something always went wrong. Bauer writes, in the end,
when you consider all of Gus's faults
why the man finally declared
the Gus must
come inside the house
When Patches and Gus finally meet, the tensions are high. But, before that moment, Patches has an encounter with a young mouse who, excited by the berry he has procured, unthinkingly steps on the sleeping cat's whisker. Despite the rumbling in her stomach, Patches lets the mouseling, pinned beneath her paw, free when he says, "Please." Being trapped under a paw and saying, "please" are acts that get repeated, meaningfully and powerfully, in Little Cat's Luck.
When Patches does find that special place, it just happens to be Gus's dog house. Once inside and settled, she begins to feel her belly clench. Soon enough, a "silvery sac, / shiny, / bumpy, / wiggly with life," emerges from "inside her very own body." I have watched cats of my own give birth and I know that they seek out a special place to do so, and still, despite Patches's flashback to the time that the neighbor cat, Thomas, sneaked in for a visit and they played, "chase over the sofa, / roll across the rug, / hug under the table," I did not see this coming! It was both a treat and a surprise, as is Gus's reaction to the kittens and how Patches, after realizing she can't raise her kittens in Gus's dog house, finds her way home. Without giving too much away, there is a suspenseful moment when Patches finds herself under Gus's paw and another, sweeter moment when he finds himself under Patches's. Bauer ends Little Cat's Luck with an amazing, sweet, wonderful act of kindness on the part of the neighborhood squirrels and bats and a poignant act of understanding on the part of Patches that will fill readers with joy. Little Cat's Luck is an engaging, enchanting book I would recommend to all readers.
Source: Purchased Library Bound Edition