Richie's Picks: THE CATS OF ROXVILLE STATION
by Jean Craighead George and Tom Pohrt, ill., Dutton, May 2009, 192p., ISBN:
"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
"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
"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
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.