by Lloyd Alexander
It isn't altogether a literary masterpiece, but it is a nice tale well told. Really it's a kind of love poem to cats, with a great deal of historical detail.
Jason, a little boy having a bad day, discovers that his cat Gareth can talk, and has the privilege of traveling through time to visit nine different lives, and can take a companion with him if he wants. Because Jason is having such a bad day, Gareth decides to take Jason with him on his tour of nine lives. They visit different eras of history when cats had different roles in relation to humans.
In Egypt 2700 BC, cats were regarded as gods, but the godlike young Pharaoh didn't realize that he couldn't command cats to cuddle and play with him.
In Rome 55 BC a cat might be guarding an artichoke garden from moles, accompanying a Roman legion to Gaul and Britain as a mascot, or frightening the daylights out of the savage Britons, who thought of cats as dangerous wild animals and were just beginning to see their usefulness as mousers.
In Ireland 411 AD, on the eve of St. Patrick's work of bringing enlightenment, Christianity, and cats to the emerald isle, people only knew of cats from garbled legends, but they sorely needed them to keep the rats away from their food supply.
In Japan 998 AD, cats were a novelty brought from China to amuse the boy emperor, who learned to stand up to his regent-uncle even as he learned to let his kittens go about their own affairs.
In Italy 1468, a young Leonardo da Vinci used a cat as his inspiration to prove to his disapproving father that he was destined to be a painter.
In Peru 1555, a Spaniard army officer, seriously promoted beyond his level of military competence, takes solace from a cat while trying to make peace between his people and the Incas.
On the Isle of Man 1588, a family of tailless cats brings luck to a struggling fishing village and comfort to a girl whose heart is torn by love and self-image problems.
And in Germany 1600 cats--and humans--are the targets of vicious and fanatical witch-hunts, which are partly used by corrupt civic leaders to increase their wealth at the expense of others' lives.
Finally, in America 1775, kittens, a.k.a. "perpetual mousetraps," serve a variety of uses to the different sorts of people gathered in the breathless hush awaiting the outbreak of the American Revolution.
And when Jason returns to his real life, he realizes that he does not need to talk to his cat to understand him, and that all their adventures together have taught him about himself. What else are cats for?
Young lovers of cats everywhere should enjoy this book, and it could also be entertaining & instructive for anyone thinking about getting a cat. You get the impression Lloyd Alexander really loved the beasts, having also written books entitled Town Cats and Other Tales and The Cat Who Wished To Be A Man.
Recommended Age: 8+
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