April 17, 2013

Do You Remember Your First...Love?

It's National Library Week. Any chance I get to celebrate what I love to do more than drink coffee, eat chocolate, drink wine...adopt cats...or even breathe...I do it.

I love books. I love to read books, I love to write books, I love to talk books. Books make me who I am. I read everything -- sometimes even the stuff that my mom told me I'd go blind if I read.

I'm a reader first, then a writer...which is what I believe makes an writer an excellent author. If you don't read, then how are you going to know what is current, or what makes for superior storytelling? I've yet to read a book where I didn't learn something about the art of storytelling.

As a child, I loved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and Pippi Longstockings. The whole fantasy of a kid living alone in a cool house totally did it for me. I think I just liked Mrs. P-W's name. Other than the color purple, I can't recall much about her adventures, but since today I am attracted to the art of naming my characters, I figure it all began with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I also read Nancy Drew -- obligatory for every adolescent female who dreamed of having a virtually non-existent father, a boyfriend, a car and a career by the time she turned sixteen.

As a kid I loved books...just not reading them. I recall the Book Mobile stopping in front of my house during summer break and I would load up with ... 8-9-10 books, of which perhaps only one would actually get read. While you gasp with Shock & Horror, let me explain by having Adult-Kim look back at Kid-Kim, who now realizes she had attention deficit issues and summer distraction was impossible for her to control. Lolling around reading was not her first choice on how to wile away a summer afternoon.

I did read, however, and there was one book that not only grabbed my attention enough to actually read it, but it held it so that I read it over and over and over....all 60 pages of it, filled mostly with pencil drawings daubbed with a bit of yellow coloring.

Shortly after my grandfather gave me my very first kitten, a white Turkish Angora named Frosty -- should have been named Dracula since he drew a lot of blood over the course of his 16 years, but that's another story -- I found a book called The Secret Cat by Tamara Kitt.

I remember my kid-self huddled over this book, proud as the dickens that I could actually read it. So, I'd like to share this book with you, albeit with my adult take on the plot. My comments are not meant to ridicule this wonderful story. I love it still. My remarks are as an adult in 2013 looking back at a story published in 1961. How times have changed!

The Secret Cat is about a prince and princess who had a secret cat. The King and Queen didn't know about the cat for some unexplained reason. As a child I didn't question it, but now as a writer I ask -- why was the cat kept secret? Was the King allergic? Was the Queen fussy about cat hair on her gown?

Then, we learn the Queen's birthday is coming and the prince and princess need a present for her. They think about selling their crowns (rolling adult eyes here) but then the Smart Cat gives them a message by pawing their clothes: Trade him for a gift.

See...as a writer I would have given the cat a voice, sending telepathic vibrations into their little royal heads to say... No! I didn't mean trade me. I'm hungry! I want toona!

Anyway, despite the princess protesting, the prince thinks its a good idea and they put a bow on the cat, which makes him trade-worthy I guess, even though in a former drawing they showed the cat hanging out in an alley with garbage. I guess royal garbage doesn't stink like it does for us Commoners.

So off they go to trade this cat. They come upon a man with a big white horse. When the kids comment about his fine horse, he comments back about what a fine cat they have. And the kids tell him how smart the cat is. The cat then proves it by balancing a stick on his nose along with a cup and saucer! OMC!

That's Oh My Cat in Anipal lingo. Like OMG.

Well, naturally the man wants to trade his expensive thoroughbred for this cat, saying his horse will make a fine present for the Queen.

Then the princess grows a brain. "No!" she tells her brother. "The man likes our cat better than the horse. Maybe our cat IS better than the horse."

See? Lesson learned at age 5 -- never trust your dumbass brother.

After declining to trade Smart Cat for the white horse, they next come upon a man with a big blue bag. Of course they admire the big blue bag (yep, it looks pretty dazzling in the black and white pencil drawing...I'm guessing a kid's imagination would come in pretty handy here) and of course the man admires their cat. And of course the cat does a trick to impress him: he reads a book!

I knew I liked this cat.

The man wants to trade for the Smart Cat and opens the big blue bag to showcase ... well, its hard to tell whats in there.  I see a horse and a clock and a figurine and a trumpet. The rest looks like squiggly junk. At least that's how my adult eyes interpret what's inside the bag. Maybe the illustrator had a headache, but I'm pretty sure a trumpet wasn't what The Queen was hoping for as a birthday present.

The prince thinks the bag would make a fine gift for his mom, The Queen. But thank god, the Princess (see, I'm capitalizing her now since she obviously has brains and will one day Rule the World like Madonna) says "No! The man likes out cat better than the big bag. Maybe our cat IS better than the big bag with all that junk those things."

When Smart Cat meows, telling them "That's right," prince boy takes credit for the idea and tells the man they won't trade the cat for the bag. This is exactly why I can't stand brothers. They come up with a stoopid idea in the first place, but then back peddle and act like they're the ones making the decisions. I had a step-brother once...didn't like the little pecknard. Sent him back to the rock he lived under. (Need therapy much, Kim?)

Okay, so now along comes a lady with a ring made of gold. As a writer I would have said a gold ring. But that's just me. Naturally the kids admire the ring. Are we all on the same page here? We know where this is going? Smart cat does trick -- blows bubbles out of a pipe and wows lady into wanting to trade ring made of gold for the cat. Princess aka Future Queen tells dumbass brother aka Future Litter Box Shoveler they won't be trading cat for the ring.

Back at home aka The Palace, the brother complains that they still don't have a present for Queen Mom. But his sister says, "Yes! We do! It's a fine present, better than a ring made of gold. Better than a big blue bag. Better than a big white horse."

While the suspense builds here, does anyone need a pee break? Need coffee? Go ahead. I'll wait.

Okay! The suspense is killing me. I'm sure it is for you too.

The next scene shows the prince and Princess presenting the cat on a yellow pillow wearing a yellow crown to Queen Mom, wishing her a Happy Birfday! I mean, Birthday. Sorry, I've been Anipal tweeting way too much lately.

Now, the Queen accepts the cat happily, saying its a fine present. So... does that mean that King Daddy is the one with the cat issues, which is why the cat was kept secret to begin with? In the drawing, however, the King (who looks like Alfred from the 1960s Batman tv show) is smiling, and the Queen, who looks like Edie Gorme (a singer from that era) is leaning forward to eagerly accept her cat-present.

So...while Kim-Kid didn't think twice about this, Adult-Kim is terribly befuddled as to why the kids kept the cat a secret when their parents clearly are not sneezing or frantically brushing fur off their royal robes.

The next page gives me the answer.

The prince and Princess are sad because now they do not have a secret cat.

The Band: A-Ha

They kept the cat secret because they shared some infantile need to keep things from their parents. The parents gave them everything, including crowns, but still, they felt the need to be secretive and hide stuff from their parents.

Adult-Kim: Good lesson, kiddies of the 1960s!
Kid-Kim: *sobbing* They g-gave their k-kitty away!

But wait!

Yes, Herman. There is a happy ending!

The cat jumps off the pillow and runs to them -- still wearing its crown since now it's royal -- and the cat tells them -- this is Author Intrusion since the cat was never set up to actually speak -- "I am the Queen's birthday present, but I am your cat!" emphasis on your.

And the final page shows the cat sitting on the Princess aka Future Queen's lap while Future Litter Box Shoveler brother is allowed a full-arm extended pat.

I loved this story so much as a 5 year old that memory of it lingered throughout my adult life. I couldn't recall the name, but I had the gist of the story, so I Googled it and finally found the 1961 book in excellent condition. So happy!

Were you a reader as a child? Do you recall your favorite book? I'd love to know why you loved that book, and also if you re-read it as an adult.


  1. I loved "The Blueberry Pie Elf". It's a story of an invisible elf who would finish making the shoes of a poor shoemaker after he went to bed. They didn't know who to thank, cause YEP invisible. One day the wife made a blueberry pie and the elf ate almost all of it and wrote thank you in blueberry juice by walking on the tablecloth. I think I liked the idea of doing something for someone who didn't expect it and couldn't pay you back. It was just a good deed done. I re-read it when I bought the book for my granddaughter. Still made me smile.

    1. I remember that story! I recall the illustrations of the tiny blueberry footprints. Good one!