The first thought my noggin offered as I sized up the cover of One Brave Boy and His Cat [Pennywell Books] was wrong.
The masked faces of both boy and cat triggered images of cartoon characters I hadn’t thought about since sometime in the pervious century — the Beagle Boys, a clan of racoon-masked criminals from Donald Duck’s world whose goal was to rob Scrooge McDuck of his fortune.
I knew that couldn’t be right. I doubt either author Dr. Andrew Peacock, or illustrator Angie Green intend the masks to suggest the boy and cat are Bad Guys. Look at the title, sure — “Brave” Boy and Cat.
Rather than jump to further erroneous conclusions, I leafed through the book and found a picture of the boy holding a magazine — a comic book? — entitled Super Cat. The cover shows a picture of a masked cat.
I looked again at the boy and his cat on this book’s cover and noticed what might be a red cape on the boy’s shoulder. It took a moment for the cape, albeit red, not yellow, plus the mask to conjure up images of Robin, the Boy Wonder — Batman’s sidekick.
More fitting, I thought, for the title’s Brave Boy, Nick.
A final thought on superheroes — Brave Boy’s topknot is pooked-up just a smidgen like Astro Boy’s.
Dab me in the mouth if I speak wrongly.
Sometimes it takes me ages to read a book because bits and pieces of the content deflect me, send me off on tangents from which it takes a while to meander back to the storyline.
One Brave Boy’s dedication — “For anyone who has ever loved a pet” — bounced me back three score years and some to a snapshot of wee, tam-topped bay-boy me standing in a box-cart with pet-Puss squeezed in my arms as if hoping to prevent time from passing.
Can you picture it?
Sweet, or what?
Okay. Page one.
Despite it being “a beautiful day in late summer” the colours are ominously dark. Fitting, I s’pose, for a story about a boy whose pet cat, Susie, has been run over on the road.
At the vet’s the parents try to protect Brave Boy Nick. They leave him in the waiting room with his Super Cat comic while they accompany the vet into his surgery.
The vet’s diagnosis? “There isn’t much we can do for injuries this bad.”
If I may be insensitive for a moment — the picture of poor Puss flattened on the examination table says definitively, “This cat won’t be back.”
But, as parents are wont to do, Brave Boy Nick’s father and mother try to shield their son from the hurt of loss.
“Tell Nick you’ll see what you can do for Susie,” Father says to the vet.
“Not the way to do it,” says the vets, or words to that effect. “If Nick is old enough to have a cat, he’s old enough to be responsible for her.”
Here’s Brave Boy Nick after listening to the vet’s explanation: “Nick sighed, but there wasn’t a tear in his eye. ‘I guess we better put Susie to sleep. I don’t want her to be unhappy.’”
As well as bravely, maturely, facing Susie’s imminent euthanization, Brave Boy Nick is sensitive to his mother’s guilt.
Whoa, pony! Mother’s guilt?
Yes, it was Mother who opened the door and allowed Susie to run out of the house. Unintentional, for sure, an accident, but it is the nature of guilt to climb on one’s back, given the slightest opportunity, eh b’ys?
Understanding his mother’s feelings, Nick hugs her and says, “That’s okay, Mom, Susie will be happier this way.”
One Brave Boy is a children’s picture book, of course. If my granddaughters were tots again, or if they would bide-still at my side and humour Pop, I can imagine leafing through this book and with each page turned saying, “Find the butterfly.”
There’s a butterfly — a Monarch? — on every page. It flies in front of Susie before she’s stuck down. It hovers above Susie spread on the examination table. It flutters in Brave Boy Nick’s face as he hears the vet’s sad news. It pitches on the roof of the family car for the ride home.
Ah, the butterfly, a symbol, I s’pose, of fate, of transformation, of … of what? … reincarnation p’raps? A symbol even a youngster will understand.
One Brave Boy and His Cat is a story about accepting the loss of a beloved pet and the suggestion — that friggin’ butterfly, eh b’ys? — that pet lovers will always get another pet to love.
Puss reborn, so to speak.
Thank you for reading.
Harold Walters lives in Dunville, Newfoundland, doing his damnedest to live Happily Ever After. Reach him at email@example.com.