BIG CAT, little cat

big cat little cat

BIG CAT, little cat

Elisha Cooper
Roaring Brook Press, 2017

From the dust jacket: “There was a cat who lived alone. Until the day a new cat came … . From award-winning author Elisha Cooper comes a poignant story about friendship, family, and new beginnings.”

From the description on the dust jacket, it would seem this book is rather simple – but it’s not. Well, it is, on the surface. A cat lives alone with his family; they bring home a new kitten; the older (big) cat teaches the younger (little) cat how to be a cat. They have many years together until the older cat goes away – and doesn’t come back. Sad. But … . Can’t say – don’t want to ruin it.

Big Cat, Little Cat is a perfect vehicle for opening a dialog with your kittens about life and death and life. The very simple line drawings pack a punch, the words are few but powerful and the story evokes emotions of both joy and grief. The book is like haiku in that for a true wordsmith it only takes a few words to communicate volumes. Experienced readers will certainly be able to read the book on their own – but read it as a family, instead. It may evoke memories both joyful and sad that need to be spoken aloud so the love may be paid forward.

Rating: 5 of 5 paws because it’s a truly beautiful story that is overflowing with the truth of life.







Gregory Maguire
Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1996, 1998

Thirteen-year-old Hand comes home from school and finds his father dead on the floor. He is alone in a rundown motel and then alone at the hospital where he waits. His mother left his father and his older sister, Vida,  three years before and moved to Seattle. Vida is in college a couple of hours away. When Hand is eventually reunited with his mother, he is full of anger over her abandonment of him and resentment that his sister has seemingly welcomed their mother back into their lives. On top of all that, guilt weighs heavily on him – if only he had come straight home from school instead of staying for track practice his father would still be alive and his mother on the West Coast.

This book tackles what is hard for anyone, let alone a child, which is the death of a loved one. Over the course of a year the reader watches Hand grow from a closed-down soul of a boy into an understanding and compassionate young man. In the end he still has issues with his mother but he knows he can move beyond those problems and back into the life as a teenager.

The author writes Hand with compassion, sensitivity and an eye toward all the jumbled-up emotions death brings. This is one of those stories that the author could easily have stretched into hundreds of pages but has distilled it down bare bones and raw emotions. Among all of the books I have read by Gregory Maguire, this numbers among the best –its brevity of word and accessibility for all ages (although it is geared toward 9-12) offers hope even in the midst of grief.

Rating: 4 paws

selfie 092015ddReviewer: Toby

blog header 3Also published on Sunny Book Garden under the non de plume ‘Debby’.

A Mango Shaped Space



A Mango-Shaped Space

Wendy Mass

Little, Brown and Company, 2003

Mia is a rising eighth-grader who has synesthesia (Wiki-link & Live Science link), a person senses are crossed. As the book opens, Mia is honoring the one-year anniversary of her grandfather’s death, and at her side constantly is her cat Mango. She has yet to fully grieve her grandfather’s death as she believes her Grandpa still lives in Mango. We journey with Mia through just over a year of her life and in that year she learns to cope with the joy of finding out she is not alone in her color-world, the turmoil of schoolwork, boys and best friends, and finally the pain of loss.

Main characters

·          Mia, as a synesthete, she sees shapes of colors whenever she hears sounds and sees colors for letters and numbers. For instance, the color of her name is candy apple red with a hint of light green. She has kept this a secret from everyone since she was in the third grade, including her parents, brother, sister and best friend.

·         Grandpa, although he is dead and we don’t actually meet him, his absence plays a major part in Mia’s life.

·         Mango, a grey and white cat that as a kitten appeared at her grandfather’s grave the day he was buried. He is named for the mango-color of his breath and purrs.

Secondary characters

·         Jenna , Mia’s best friend and PIC (Partner in Crime), like Mia, she has felt deep grief

·         Zack, Mia’s annoying little brother  (as all little brother’s are when they are that young)

·         Beth, Mia’s annoying older sister (as all older sister’s are always)

·         Roger, schoolmate and history project partner,  who also has felt the pang of deep loss

·         Mom and Dad, Mia’s parents, who do their best to understand their “Wild Child.”

Other characters

·         Billy Henkle, a very young boy whom Mia meets in the grocery store and for the first time realizes she is not alone in her color-wheel  world  

·         Jerry, the neurologist who diagnosis’s Mia

·         Adam, an on-line friend and fellow synesthete


It would be impossible for me to review this book without giving away the ending, well-not all of it, but the main turn in the book is right there in the title – “A Mango-Shaped Space.” Mango – as much as it pains me to say, well, he dies. There- it’s out. I’m, sorry, but it happens. Way at the end of the book, but it does. We get clues all along the way, clues that Mia misses and then beats herself up for not seeing them. But way before we get there, we learn to understand what it is like in her world, a world filled with bursts of color and texture.  As Mango is slowly dying, Mia is busy growing up. She is coming into her own as a young woman and learning to leave behind the things that prevent her from moving forward.  The transition of Mango from life to after-life (yes, there is after-life for cats) Mia finally transitions from grief into life. And like all births, it is a struggle, but her Grandpa and Mango gave her much needed strength to go on.


Rating:  4 paws because I really liked it, I cried when Mango died and I learned something new (about synesthesia).

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dec 24 2010 Reviewer: BobbiSue

 Wendy Mass

Wendy Mass is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen novels for young people (which have been translated into 14 languages and nominated for 74 state book awards), including A Mango-Shaped Space (which was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award by the American Library Association), Leap Day, the Twice Upon a Time fairy tale series, Every Soul a Star11 Birthdays, Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and FinallyThe Candymakers , and 13 Gifts. Her latest books are The Last Present, Pi in the Sky, and a new early reader series called Space Taxi. Wendy wrote the storyline for an episode of the television show Monk, entitled “Mr. Monk Goes to the Theatre,” which aired during the show’s second season. She tells people her hobbies are hiking and photography, but really they’re collecting candy bar wrappers and searching for buried treasure with her metal detector. She lives with her family in New Jersey.

Some of her books:


 Could this be Mango?

Other books with Mango in the title (the word not the cat!)


Making Rounds with Oscar



Making Rounds with Oscar, The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat

David Dosa, M. D.

Hyperion, HarperCollins Publishers, 2010

Going in I had no idea what the book was about, only that it was about the cat who knew when people were going to die. What it turned out to be was a book about a group of compassionate care givers in a nursing home, devoted to caring for patients with end-stage dementia, or Alzheimer’s. The nursing home, Steere House, is located in Rhode Island and has cats on every floor of the home. Oscar lives on the third floor with another cat named Maya. The third floor is where the dementia patients go to die.

Here are some quotes I found meaningful:

“As I left the lobby I looked back at the cats in the atrium; they were already engaged in chasing each other, like two kids playing tag. My comings and goings were of no concern to them. They were truly in the now. My life is made of pagers, deadlines, appointments, and responsibilities. At that moment the existence of a cat looked pretty good to me.” Pg 45

  • I wonder how at peace humans would be if they learned to live in the now the way we cats do. We are occupied with the present. If we are hungry, we eat. If we are tired, we sleep. If we are dirty with take a bath. If we feel happy, we play. If humans followed such a philosophy, which includes letting go of the past and not worrying about the future, would we live in a world of peace

“Maybe that’s all [Oscar] was: a companion, a sentient being who might accompany one person on their journey to the next world, or another through the grief of losing the one they loved—a kind of underworld of its own.”    Pg 189

  • During the end of life, both patient and family need support. Oscar provided that support in a subtle, gentle way. Everyone, cat and human, benefit from having someone with them as they take their last breath. What the benefit is, we don’t know. The person or cat takes that knowledge with them when they leave. But not knowing is alright for now.

“Animals like Oscar can teach us through their steadfastness, their patience, and their presence. They don’t have to be anywhere else except where they are. When Oscar visits his patients, he doesn’t care what time it is or whether there is somewhere else he would rather be. He is in the moment. It is so important to be able to spend time with someone with dementia—even if you think that they no longer know who you are.”  Pg 221

  • During their lives humans spend so much time and effort on things that ultimately are meaningless and so little time on things that are eternal. But that is who and what they are. Maybe one day people will slow down, take stock of their lives and loved ones and savor each moment. Seriously, take a look at the cat who stretches out asleep in the sunshine – you really want to do that too, don’t you? Then do it!

Dr. Dosa offers well heeded advice on end-stage dementia for caregivers. He provides multiple incidents of Oscar’s ability to tell when a person is going to die and how it affected the family members. It is a beautiful book and one full of hope and promise.

I probably won’t read this book again unless I need to (and hopefully we won’t need to – no offense intended, Oscar.) But we will keep it in our library just in case, that and the lovely portrait of Oscar on the cover.

rufus pawrufus pawrufus paw  the magnificiantReviewer: Rufus


Courtesy Hyperion Books
Dr. David Dosa is a geriatrician and an assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, both in Providence, Rhode Island.
Click here for more info on Oscar.






By Jerry Spinelli

Little, Brown and Company, paperback edition, 2008

Nine-year-old David’s mother dies unexpectedly and he goes to live with his grandmother in a new city while his father works 200 miles away and only comes home on weekends. David is sullen because he not only misses his mother but all of his friends and gives his grandmother a hard time with everything. He refuses to do what she says or even smile around her. One day she drags him out while she does volunteer work and he meets a thirteen-year-old girl, Primrose, who is quite unlike anyone he has met before.

Main Characters:


“I don’t want to make friends.” [in a conversation with his grandmother]
“Everybody needs friends.”
“Not me.”
“We all do, David. We’re all human.”
“I’m not.”
“What might you be then?”
“A moose.” Pg 3

This snippet of conversation accurately reflects David’s outlook on the world at this point in his life. He is grieving the loss of his mother but doesn’t understand it as such.


She glared at him. She snipped, “What makes you think she’s my mother?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did I every say she was my mother?”
“Did I ever call her Mom? Mommy?”
She glared another second, then laughed. “Yeah, she’s my mother.” She gave him a friendly laugh. “She’s goofy, huh?” Pg 53

David and Primrose snipe at each other like this throughout the story. They have a love-hate friendship. Primrose is also grieving the loss of having a “normal” mother instead of the fortune teller one she has.

Supporting characters:


She said to him (David) at lunch one day, “We used to have such good times together.”
He went on munching his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The carrot, as usual, lay untouched on the table.
Munching. As if she weren’t there.
She went away in tears. Pg 128

David breaks his grandmother’s heart on a daily basis by refusing to let her in. But he doesn’t know what he is doing to her and she keeps it hidden.

Refrigerator John –

Refrigerator John did not measure up to his name. He was neither as tall nor as wide as a refrigerator…. John knew something about stunted growth. His own right leg had been withered since birth. When he walked, the leg flapped out sideways, as though he were shaking a dog loose. Pg 72-73

John’s home is a safe haven for both David and Primrose, a place where they can be themselves, both the good and the bad.

Primrose leads David on a series night-time adventures over the course of the summer. At the end of summer, they go off to see The Waving Man but ultimately come face-to-face with the grief that haunts them both. 

Laura and I argued over who would review this book but as the opening chapter is from a boy’s perspective and the author is a man, I won the argument. I enjoyed the book; it was light reading but I did get aggravated with David for treating his grandmother so poorly when all she wanted to do was to love him. I really liked Primrose for her gumption to get what she wanted no matter what (e.g., she wanted a room of her own so she converted a van and moved into it). 


toby headshot2


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Courtesy Goodreads –

Jerry Spinelli When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.

He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.
Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Spinelli, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Spinelli decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.

In most of his books, Spinelli writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids!