Richie's Picks: THE CATS OF ROXVILLE STATION
- Richie's Picks: THE CATS OF ROXVILLE STATION by Jean Craighead George and Tom Pohrt, ill., Dutton, May 2009, 192p., ISBN: 978-0-525-42140-5"A lady in a fur coat threw a fighting, hissing cat off a bridge, got back into her car, and sped into the night."Rachet the cat splashed into the river."She felt the wetness, and hating it, reached out to claw this enemy. Her paw struck a stick, raked it for a better hold, and she was swimming."An eddy caught her, swirled her shoreward until she felt stones under her feet and ran out of the water. Shaking her paws, she four-footed it into a woods that edged the river. When she was out of sight of the bridge she stopped, shook herself, and frantically licked the water off her sodden tiger-striped fur. With her forepaw, she cleaned her ears of the river water, then her face and whiskers. The bruise on her ribs where the lady had kicked her yesterday had been soothed by the cold water and was no longer throbbing."When she was almost dry, she crept deeper into the night woods. Rachet, like all cats, found her way in the dark with the rods in her eyes, which could take in the faintest of light, even starlight, and make the night into day. Smelling dryness, she hurried to the fallen leaves under an oak tree and frantically rolled in them. Then, shivering with loneliness and fright, she meowed in her baby voice to bring her mother. There was no answer. Her world had changed."Did you know that there is meaning in the way a cat holds its tail? That cats can have altercations through which the social order is forever altered despite there not being any physical contact?THE CATS OF ROXVILLE STATION is the story of Rachet the cat and of Mike, the foster child who longs for a cat his can call his own. As is Jean Craighead George's style, readers will come to know all sorts of true and weird stuff about the animal characters as they follow the action. In this case, we learn about Rachet and a half dozen other feral cats as well as the other animals living in this corner of a suburban neighborhood. There is Windy the barn owl, Ringx the raccoon, Cheeks the chipmunk, Fang the milk snake, Shifty the red fox, and Lysol the skunk. (No, the author does NOT give names to the neighborhood mice and rats. In this death-don't-have-no-mercy environment, that would be akin to naming the individual chips in a bag of Fritos. Nevertheless, we do learn gnarly details about the ability of mice to reproduce on a scale that necessitates the use of exponents and/or calculators.)"Rachet rubbed her own personal scent on the buckets and boxes to make her smell-trail through the junk. To a cat the smell-trail was as bright as neon lights are to people."For that matter, death hasn't offered Mike much mercy, either. His mother died when he was three; his father died when he was eight; and after a group home experience and a failed foster situation, he came to live in a big, old house with Mr. and Mrs. Dibber. The kindly husband shared boating and baseball with Mike, but then he died, too. Now Mike is alone with the hard-hearted widow and she has no use for cats and little praise for Mike.But like Sam Gribley from George's MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, and Miyax from JULIE OF THE WOLVES, Mike is an observant and resourceful adolescent -- a survivor -- who is determined to find a way through the difficult hand he has been dealt. His patience and determination is the perfect match for a cat who has only known cruelty by the hands of humans.I have not paid a lot of attention to the feral cats who have come and gone from my farm over the years. In recent months there has been a black cat that I have observed periodically: Sometimes I look out the upstairs window and see it wandering up or down the long driveway. Sometimes I go out to the barn at night to check on the goats, and glimpse it bolting out of the hay room when I enter. I am happy to share the farm with cats in the same way that -- I learned from this book -- the Egyptians welcomed and began domesticating these curious creatures four thousand years ago.The past couple of days, when I see that black cat outside, I find myself taking a second look and watching more thoughtfully. Thanks to Jean Craighead George, I have a newfound respect for cats -- the kind of respect that comes from really knowing about something.
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